Saturday, December 18, 2010

Christ Evangelical Lutheran Church

Christ Evangelical Lutheran Church has many aesthetically pleasing aspects to behold inside the sanctuary. Constructed in 1959, the sanctuary follows a rectilinear open hall plan, including a nave and altar. The visitor becomes encased by endless rows of stained glass surrounding the sanctuary. The stained glass cross above the alter offers additional colored light for the congregation. After service, exit through the large narthex and view the magnificent mural painting above the doors as you depart. Enjoy your architectural experience at Christ Evangelical Lutheran Church.

Under the Rev. Robert J. Keller, the congregation of Christ Evangelical Lutheran Church in Johnstown, Pennsylvania held their first service on March 9, 1941, in the vacant ballroom in the old Dupont mansion. At the second meeting on June 15, 1941, the name “Christ’s Evangelical Lutheran Church” was chosen, later changed to simply “Christ Evangelical Lutheran Church.” Officially chartered in August 1942, the congregation purchased the Dupont property in January 1943. By June 1946, the congregation had grown from 20 to 178 members, thus in November 1947, plans were made to remodel the ballroom into a more suitable worship space.

In January 1954, the congregation held a meeting to discuss building an entirely new sanctuary. Additional property was purchased in 1956 to expand Christ Evangelical Lutheran Church. The Christ Evangelical Lutheran Church congregation consulted the Department of Church Architecture as well as local architects, James H. Kring and J. Richard Ross, in drafting plans for the building of their new sanctuary, and construction began on May 10, 1959.

The sanctuary of Christ Evangelical Lutheran Church follows a rectilinear open hall plan, including a nave lined with pews and an altar found under a massive pointed arch. The original draft of the sanctuary was drawn in classical Christian basilica form with a transept. However, there were three parties involved in establishing the layout of the church that had varying views of the sanctuary. The parties involved include the congregation, the Department of Church Architecture, and the architects, Kring and Ross. Christ Evangelical Lutheran Church was the first church constructed by James H. Kring, an architect known for his local modern houses. The Christ Evangelical Lutheran Church sanctuary, which we see today, is a product of many compromises made in the past among the three parties.

Visitors to the sanctuary first enter into the large narthex and continue into the nave for worship where the altar becomes the focal point at the eastern end. The stained glass windows enclose the sanctuary on both sides, evoking a light feeling within the space. The specific colors of the stained glass panes, made of double rolled opalescent antique glass, was chosen by the Department of Church Architecture and approved by Kring. The congregation wanted the stained glass to consist of two rows in an effort to lower the roof and allow for a more efficient space. However, in the final sanctuary the stained glass is comprised of three rows and multiple columns. Steel frames throughout the sanctuary part the stained glass into sections, creating stained glass patches. Each section of stained glass is comprised of a dozen rectangular panes of glass, consistent in width but varying in height. There are wide ranges of colors used among the stained glass, ranging from lime green to clear, with the most frequently used colors being blues and purple. There is no known significance for the chosen colors and patterns in the stained glass, although it is speculated that they were chosen based on the range of prices presented by the dye for the panes. The stained glad windows at Christ Evangelical Lutheran Church create a mystical space and are a must-see feature that is impossible to miss.

The stained glass directs your attention towards the incredible white marble altar housed under a massive wooden pointed arch that emphases the separation from nave to altar. Three steps leading to the altar signify the Holy Trinity. A stained glass mosaic cross is embedded into the wall directly above the white marble altar. Similar to the stained glass windows, the colors for the cross were the decision of the Department of Church Architecture. Unlike the stained glass windowpanes, the cross appears to be fragmented glass, with each piece individual and unique. A thick black line connects each piece of glass to the others for functional and artistic reasons. In contrast, the stained glass windowpanes appear to be seamlessly placed together without any thick connecting element. The cross is a spectacular piece of art at Christ Evangelical Lutheran Church and concludes the sanctuary’s engulfment of colored light.

Another breathtaking element of Christ Evangelical Lutheran Church is the painted mural located on the south wall of the large narthex. The artist William Pasternak, a local Johnstown man who acquired his MFA from the University of Miami (OH), approached the congregation on September 20, 1964, offering to paint a mural inside the church. The painting juxtaposes the history of the past with current history and serves as a reminder of God’s creation of the entire universe. The bottom half of the mural depicts the history component of the painting and is separated into four sections. The past history depicts many historically famous figures such as Martin Luther, Paul Revere, and George Washington. A tree in the middle of the mural holds a badge which displays a cross and the words “Lutheran Church In America” encrusted around the outside of the circle. This tree becomes the dividing line between the past and present. Above the tree on the right hand side we see industrial steel mills and coalmines, the economic lifeblood of Johnstown and western Pennsylvania. On the far right there is an Army soldier as well as a Navy sailor. On the right hand side, the lighting of the candle symbolizes the establishment of faith. In the top half of the painting, Christ is visualized directly above the tree along with images of the creation of Earth. Pasternak selected Christ Evangelical Lutheran Church for the architectural elements that Christ Lutheran had to offer. Originally, Pasternak wanted to display his painted inside the nave but the congregation was hesitant. Pasternak received a thank you letter from the congregation in February 1965 upon completion of the mural. The painted mural became the first art piece installed in Christ Evangelical Lutheran Church and remains there today.

Name: Christ Evangelical Lutheran Church
Location: 337 Elknud Lane, Johnstown, PA (Westmont Borough)
Religious Affiliation: Evangelical Lutheran Church of America (ELCA)
Date of Construction: 1959
Architect: James H. Kring and J. Richard Ross
Building Style: Modern
Plan Type: Rectilinear open hall plan
Primary Materials: Wood, brick, concrete, stained glass, steel
Status: Active

Numerous Historical documents from the Christ Evangelical Lutheran Church archives as well as current Pastor, Rev. Robert Arbarno were consulted as resources for the above information.
Church website

researched by Monica Rohrabaugh

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