Christmas Eve 2010 holds the promise of being filled with opportunities to make new, once in a lifetime memories for Uniontown resident Kimberly Snyder.
She will publicly be sharing a first look at the results of months of her donated restoration and repair work on many of the original stained glass windows in the more than 200 year old country church still known as Uniontown United Presbyterian Church.
According to church documents, at the time of its 155th anniversary in the fall of 1955, it was the oldest church in what was then the Wheeling Presbytery.
T-L Photos/Kim Loccisano
The numerous stained glass windows have always been a big part of the beauty enjoyed by worshipers attending services at the more than 200 year old Uniontown United Presbyterian Church, and passersby as well. Over the course of the last eight months Uniontown resident Kimberly Snyder has been working on repairing, refurbishing or replacing the intricate designs, many of which had all but completely collapsed, had severe cracks or sections completely missing. She is seen here enjoying a quiet moment as she prepares for a special event - open to the general public - a largely traditional Christmas Eve service which will begin at 7 p.m. Many of the sections of the stained glass work behind her have been worked on successfully by her in recent months.
As a building, the small country church in Uniontown has been without an assigned pastor for several years, which has also meant there were few resources to invest in a 200 year old building on its way to its final demise largely as it was not being used on anything close to a regular basis.
At some point during this decline, Snyder reconnected with her childhood church and several friends who had been trying to keep a watchful eye on the condition of the building, protecting it as much as possible from the ravages that generally come to a building that has been all but abandoned.
"I learned to love God here," is the straight forward message at the heart of Snyder's answer when asked why she chose to make a deep personal investment in the building's overall future by reaching deep into its strong history and found spiritual motivation to start a tremendous repair and refurbishing effort at a time when her own health was waning.
Not so long ago, a life-threatening illness forced Snyder into early retirement and will have an impact on each day through the balance of her lifetinme.
She needed something to do, something to focus on that would generate positive results for her personally as well as professionally, and which might very well be something she could work over a long period of time.
"Truthfully, this church called to me," she offered candidly. "It was actually a photo taken of the small congregation gathered on the front steps of the church a while ago that moved me to reconnect with it and the people it served. As a young adult I was a Sunday School teacher here. Now I am trying to do something positive for myself, for the congregation and the community. It is an amazing opportunity, and I am so very grateful for it."
It was a change from the high stress level of her career that took her completely by surprise, and in a way nothing had ever done in years past.
"Fighting an illness can be very difficult and very draining, and the element of fear it can interject into your life can be devastating," she offered. "But that does not mean you have to let it stay that way."
Snyder found it to be a time when her soul and body needed opportunities to heal and to grow, so finding new and positive areas of interest to become active in proved a life saving practice for this disciplined, highly dedicated individual.
It also became a time to learn new things and to revel in educational experiences of her choosing, which included a decision to register for classes at Belmont Technical College in stained glass restoration work, which she did and found herself quickly fascinated by the craft and her own developing capabilities.
At about that same time she completed her education and came to hold an honorary doctor of divinity degree from World Christianship Ministries.
It was largely through her own efforts to heal and strengthen aspects of her daily life which had become dangerously depleted that Snyder was able to find her way to a brighter future; one in which she is growing stronger each day as a person as well as in her renewed commitment to being an instrument of God's good works.
It was the first step on an unexpectedly life changing path connecting her more deeply than ever before to the artistic spirit within her, and to an ever deepening love of God rooted in very positive childhood experiences within this same church building.
Through a simple everyday conversation with a lifelong friend, Phil Nichol, the scales were tipped in the direction of a new connection for Snyder. The discussion lead Nichol to assist her with the desire to save the church building itself after learning of her interest in the building's stained glass windows and her hope of getting permission to restore or refurbish them before they all too quickly shattered into pieces frpm which nothing could have been salvaged but shards of broken glass from the original windows.
Snyder approached Nichol about obtaining permission for her to come in to the church building to take a look at the windows and figure out what could be done to stop the rapid detoriation.
As a stained glass artisan Snyder connected deeply with the religiously themed windows present in a large and impressive array on most all sides of the structure.
Snyder has gone to great lengths to use original glass wherever possible in the restoration effort, but is eliminating old construction materials and techniques by employing those things needed by today's stained glass artisans to allow safe contact with what had been led based materials.
"You can really see the difference from the outside of the church when the sun is shining on the windows, thanks mostly to the lustrous highlights brought out through the materials and methods used when working in the more delicate looking but ultimately stronger more modern 'Tiffany' method I can also eliminate any use of lead," she said. "This method is also holds up better than the lead materials did when it comes to their long-term integrity."
Nichol and Snyder consult on decisions about what track should be taken when reworking each of the windows, of which 13 have already been completed by Snyder.
"I try to use pieces from original but collapsed stained glass panels when I have to completely replace something in these windows, and particularly when I have to completely redesign a window," she offered. The only other set of hands helping with the project are those of her husband, Harland Snyder, who is himself a fan of the artistic beauty these windows embody particularly when you mix in just a bit of lite .
"The building is especially beautiful at night when the church lights are on inside, even the people driving past the church in the evening get to see something really beautiful," he said.
"I'm really excited to be able to share this gift with people," offered Kimberly Snyder, "I am really looking forward to this service and to being able to share the beauty of this building and these beautiful windows with everyone."
Attempting to take appreciation for the beauty of the church and its windows a step further into the public eye, she has begun discussions with Belmont County Tourism Council officials and others in an attempt to submit the area for possible designation as a scenic highway.
But, first and foremost, the beautiful windows and inviting traditional sanctuary are components of a church meant to serve the needs of area residents in particular - a mission that is once again being shouldered by a small number of area residents who want to share this blessing with others.
"Anyone looking around for a church service to be part of on Christmas Eve will be welcomed here for this very special service," said Snyder.
Though she has accomplished many things in her lifetime this year's Christmas Eve will offer another rare opportunity for Snyder to achieve another personal goal while working to improve a small part of the community she will always call home.
Christmas Eve 2010 will be unlike any other for Uniontown resident as she opens the doors of the more than 200 year old church at the heart of her hometown to share a communion service with the general public and to offer her first sermon as a licensed minister all while she and the congregation are wrapped in the colorful glow of the beautiful stained glass windows she has - and is continuing to - bring back to a life of beauty for all to enjoy. The service is scheduled to begin at 7 p.m.
Additional information about the Christmas Eve service or about the church are welcomed by Snyder, who can be reached by calling 740-968-4698.
"Also, anyone wanting to share photos about the church's past are welcome to bring them to the service or to contact me ahead of time about them," she offered.
Loccisano may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org