Central Avenue Christian Reformed Church
Stained Glass Windows
The Story of Central Avenue’s Windows
From the early days of Christianity,
symbolism has been used to present the great truths of our religion. For example, the persecuted Christians in
As time rolled on, this symbolism grew and developed. Sad to say, in the course of time ecclesiastical art became the handmaiden of unbiblical teachings and practices of the Roman Church. No doubt this was one of the reasons why in the first years after the Reformation there was a strong aversion for adornment of the churches. Images were destroyed and beautiful paintings were covered over with plaster. But it should be the expression of Biblical truth and it may never become the object of veneration.
As we approach the front entrance of our church and look up, we see a beautiful stained glass window. The main theme is that of the Christian Pilgrim on his journey to glory. We see him down in the valley, but he is going on the upward way. It is the way of the cross, but, thank God, at the end of the road the crown beckons and glory is waiting. A wonderful reminder, indeed, for the pilgrim as he enters the church for worship. It impresses upon him the fact that he has here no abiding city, but must seek that which is to come. The service of worship deepens this pilgrim-consciousness and also provides good, direction, warning and encouragement for the traveler on the pilgrim road to glory. Looking to the right lower corner of this window we see Moses. Representing the Old Testament, he holds the tables of the Law and also the pole with the brazen serpent. On the opposite side we see Paul, the representative of the New Testament. He is stepping out of a boat and is about to plant the banner of the cross on the new continent. Between these representatives of Old and New Testaments, we see the two hemispheres which represent the world. Accordingly, between these two hemispheres you see a cross, which represents the message which we are to bring to the world. The lower part of the window, then, proclaims the duty of the church to witness in all the world, but it also tells the world that the church has the message that meets its deepest need, the message of reconciliation through the cross of Jesus Christ.
Passing through the doors of the church we come into the narthex. In other buildings this is commonly called vestibule, but in church buildings it is called narthex. Crossing the narthex we come into the nave of the church, often referred to as auditorium. As we go a few steps down the aisle and look to our left (north) we see the series of windows which represent the Parable of the Sower. Below each symbol and picture is a quotation from Scripture which tells us that the seed is the Word of God. The next window brings out the fact that this Word must be applied by the Holy Spirit, who is represented by the symbol of a descending dove. The third window shows the Sower. Take a good look and you will see the birds of which Jesus spoke in the parable. The fourth window sums up the great message of the Word, namely, the cross. This particular cross stands on a rock in the midst of turbulent waters to convey the blessed truth that in Christ crucified there is refuge indeed. The cross, however, is not the last word concerning Christ, nor concerning the Christian. After the cross comes the crown. Hence, the fifth window presents the crown, a crown of righteousness.
We are now ready to turn to the right to see the windows on the south side of the nave. Here too a unified group of windows greets our eyes. A hasty glance shows us that this series presents the great “I am” claims of Christ. They tell us what Jesus proclaimed concerning Himself. The first window with the torch presents Jesus as the Light of the World. The Savior also declared that He was the Bread of Life. This has always been presented in Christian art by a sheaf of wheat such as we see in the second window. The most tender “I am” of our Redeemer is found in John 10 where Jesus says, “I am the Good Shepherd.” Thus in the third window we see a shepherd with his flock. The shepherd carried a lamb on his arm. In the same chapter Jesus says, “I am the Door”. Only through Him can the sheep enter in. This door is pictured in the fourth window. In His farewell addresses to His disciples the Lord brought out the vital and intimate relationship between Himself and His own through the figure of a vine and its branches. This blessed truth is conveyed by the last of these five windows.
In conclusion, we would call attention to the fine balance between the two sides, north and south. On the north we have an agricultural picture, the Sower, and on the south a pastoral scene, the Shepherd.
We are fortunate to have windows rich in usage of symbols previous generations have used as reminders of their religious heritage. Some of this accumulation is incorporated into the designs along with the use of special colors associated with the symbols.
GREEN: Eternal, Everlasting, Hope – the color of Life.
BLUE: Heaven, Jehovah, interpreted as symbolizing the everlasting Love of God.
PURPLE: The royal or regal color of royal origin, Majesty of God.
VIOLET: Lighter shade of purple, still denotes royalty but to symbolize humility and penitence. Usage most often at the Lenten and Advent seasons of the church year.
RED: Depicts the sacrificial shedding of the blood of Jesus Christ. Combined with Yellow/Orange to reference the Divine Zeal of the Holy Spirit – e.g. tongues of fire on Pentecost Day.
YELLOW/ORANGE: Light, zeal, relates to the Word of God – Light and Lamp to Christian’s path.
WHITE: Symbol of the Creator, Lamb of God, purity, perfection, innocence, joy.
BROWN: Representative of mankind, struggle – formed from dust of the earth. Refers also to the human nature of Christ the Son.
Following is a portion of symbolism used, with in-depth information on the Circle Window above the pulpit area:
First, the “Rose Window” which basic construction form in the circle. It carries out the symbolic reminder of God – eternal, without beginning or ending, continuous conveys completeness and the eternal nature of each Person in the Godhead. Central to the design is the Greek Cross with influence of the Cross Patee. Very prominent is the red center which gives emphasis to the sacrificial blood of Christ as the nucleus of the plan of Salvation. The cross is yellow/orange to identify the role of the Holy Spirit giving power and influence to sending of the Gospel. Four arms of the cross symbolize that this salvation is to be spread to the four corners of the world. Within the circle frame, the 12 sections are incorporated signifying the 12 Apostles whose task was to spread the Gospel to the ends of the earth. The design in each section is a variation of the Fleur-de-lis which Medieval scholars refer to as representative of the Trinity – e. g. 3 parts to the design, 3 persons yet all connected.
Noticeable are two more references to the Trinity. Locate the point of color at the apex of the circle and follow down around the circumference on the left and right to note again the same color. Drawing an imaginary line to these three points, you have a triangle. A triangle is part of the symbol used by the CRC to identify itself as a Trinitarian believing denomination. Upon further notice, the circle is divided into 3 equal parts by alignment of the same points of each like color on the three positions, intersecting at the Cross center. This puts the design into three equiangular sections calling to mind the unity of the 3 Persons of the Trinity – Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Not by accident this window is positioned in front of the people along with the Word of God as they engage in joyful corporate worship – a reminder of the focus of their praise to the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
Designed by Daverman Architects of Grand Rapids, Central Avenue
Christian Reformed Church was constructed in 1953. Its twelve stained glass
windows were created by John VanderBurgh, who was
associated during the 1950s with the Grand Rapids Art Glass Company, which
operated from 1912 to 1994. Born in the
Avenue Christian Reformed Church was registered in the Michigan Stained Glass
Census by Ray Naber, with photography by Stuart Westing, both of