FREMONT, Neb. — For decades, light has filtered through the stained glass windows of First United Methodist Church in Fremont.

But when members noticed some deterioration in those windows, they knew action was needed.

So the church has embarked on a $102,000 project to restore the 18 stained glass windows in the building. Restoration work, which began last fall, has been completed on five of the windows. It probably will take another year before the project is complete.

Members already have noticed a difference. Light streams more easily through the colorful windows and symbols, such as the lilies, look brighter.

Members of the church’s blue-shirted Prayer and Repair team reflected on how the window project began.

“Our church was built in 1921 and we noticed that some of the windows were starting to show signs of bowing,” Gail Bevington told the Fremont Tribune ( ).

Lead that surrounded the individual pieces of glass has been deteriorating and giving way. Thus, the glass is sagging and bowing.

Church member Claude Harder added something else.

“We think maybe some of the problem was caused by the hotel blow up,” Harder said referring to the 1976 Hotel Pathfinder explosion.

That especially could be the case for a window on the southeast side of the building.

Last spring, representatives of three stained glass restoration companies were asked to examine the windows and make recommendations.

“Each of them told us the same thing — that the lead in the linings was deteriorated and that we would need to do something, because the glass was going to start falling out,” said the Rev. Michael McGregor.

The windows are very important to the church.

“They’re historical and certainly we needed to take action to make sure we didn’t have a problem,” Bevington said.

And no one wants a window to give way and possibly hurt someone.

McGregor cited a situation in which the corner concrete façades fell into the basement of a Methodist church in Lincoln where he worked in the early 1990s.

“There were meetings going on nearby and it sounded like an atom bomb going off,” McGregor said. “We were out of the church for a year while repairs were done, because of the safety issues.

“You want to get it (the window project) done before it’s an emergency and problems arise and maybe we’re not in our sanctuary for a month,” he said.

Architectural Glassarts in Lincoln was hired to do the work. Thus far, a large main and two side windows, along with two other windows in the sanctuary have been restored.

“We’re not just having them repaired, we’re having them completely rebuilt,” said member Don Barnhart.

The restoration process is extensive. McGregor said the company photographs each piece and disassembles the entire window.

“It’s an incredible process to watch,” McGregor said. “It takes a long time. They clean and restore each piece (of glass).”

Some panes of glass are replaced. Bevington said the glass for the windows is still produced in Kokomo, Indiana.

With the restoration project, less lead and more zinc is used. That material is stronger and lighter, Barnhart said.

McGregor also pointed out that the windows, which had been in place for 96 years, were very dirty.

“You couldn’t believe how muddy the outside of the windows were. When they washed them, they laid the windows down in this cleaning solution and he (the restorer) picked one of them up and couldn’t hardly see through it once that dirt was wet,” Harder added.

Besides restoring the windows, all of the existing plexiglass storm coverings will be replaced by quarter-inch plate glass, which won’t discolor.

Wood trim around the windows, which is deteriorating, will be replaced with aluminum cladding.

“They’ll last another 100 years, well beyond our lifetime,” Bevington said.

Bevington appreciates the congregation’s voluntary contributions toward the project.

“The congregation stepped up and is supporting better than 50 percent of the cost of the project. We’re very pleased with that,” he said.

Future plans for this fall or next spring include an exterior restoration project in which new mortar will be put in between the bricks to keep water from getting inside of the church.

“We’ve got some places where the mortar is completely out,” McGregor said.

The cast stone on the outside of the building — dirty from years of Broad Street traffic — will be cleaned.

“As well as the need for repair, we’re returning the original beauty of this historical building,” McGregor said.

Information from: Fremont Tribune,

An AP Member Exchanged shared by the Fremont Tribune.