Lee University’s chapel juts out from the ground on the corner of North Ocoee and 11th streets in a manner that is all at once imposing and welcoming.
And for those who accept the invitation to step inside, the sunlight streaming through the 55 stained glass windows can be downright mesmerizing.
Workers from Emmanuel Studio in Nashville placed the fourth and final installation of the expansive stained glass windows Wednesday morning.
Artist and project head Dennis Harmon expressed his pleasure with the final product.
“You'll get a different effect from morning to evening depending on where the sun is,” Harmon said. “You get a different effect in the winter, when there is no light reflecting off of the tree leaves, than you do in the summer.”
President Dr. Paul Conn said he and his wife, Darlia, dreamed of a neo-Gothic inspired chapel 15 years ago. Darlia felt it was a needed addition to the Christ-centered campus. The dream became a $3 million reality in 2011.
The building originally showcased six stained glass windows located in the front of the chapel, the apse, the transept and the tower.
“Our goal was to then take it in stages, because we wanted to make sure we kept all of that light streaming in,” Conn said. “The whole feeling of that chapel during the daytime is very bright.”
Neo-Gothic chapels have a tendency to feel dark and cloistered. Harmon incorporated distorted clear glass alongside the bright blue, green, yellow, red and orange stained glass in an effort to complement the inner walls’ warm wood and high ceilings.
Conn said he is pleased with the result. A hushed silence hangs in the chapel. The quiet provides ample opportunity to study the images and designs of the windows.
Unlike the Biblical stories illustrated in many church windows, the chapel boasts simple geometric designs and “visual elements that are unique to Lee University.” The design and symbols distinguish the chapel’s windows from “cookie-cutter, mass-produced” options.
The three windows found in the apse and transept offer a perfect example of Lee’s unique design.
All three can be seen at the front of the pews.
Director of Special Projects Cole Strong said the initial six stained-glass windows were designed to make a statement.
Front and center is the 14-foot apse window complete with a pictorial representation of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. Each picture sits high in the three kites of the window. A cross represents Christ; a burning fire represents the living God; and a dove represents the Holy Spirit.
Centered between the three kites and Ephesians 3:16-19 scroll, found near the bottom, is a crown and a cross to signify Lee University is a campus where Christ is King.
Light streaming through the apse window provides a 3-D effect on the cross and crown.
Harmon suggested, “Next time, look at it again, but squint your eyes real tight and you will see the depth of field laid out.”
Kites found in the transept windows highlight the university’s major emphases: service learning, global perspectives and excellence; and the old seal of Lee, which was made up of a torch, the Bible and a laurel wreath.
Additional Scripture can be found at the base of the two transept windows. To the left, also known as the south transept, is Ephesians 2:10 alongside a word of thanks to Rich and Helen DeVos.
To the right, also known as the north transept, is the scripture found on every campus building, Psalms 90:17, “May the favor of the Lord our God rest on us; establish the work of our hands for us — yes, establish the work of our hands.” An additional word of thanks to Ray and Joan Conn is found to the right of the verse.
According to Strong, the initial six windows inspired continued work on the remaining pieces.
“It became apparent over time these windows are so great, we wanted to put some stained glass into these lower windows,” Strong said. “Every time finished one installment, it pushed us to do the next section.”
Eighteen windows placed during the second installment march alongside the pews, through the transept and toward the apse. Supporters of the university are highlighted in the windows to the left of the pews. Four windows to the right of the pews honor deceased loved ones of community supporters.
A single yellow rose is found in the last pew-side window. The small stained-glass scroll reads, “In memory of Ralph Sr., Stella and Shipley Rose Buckner.” Conn said the flower was added in honor of Shipley, who was only 18 at the time of her death.
An additional 18 celestial windows were completed as part of phase three. The final phase was recently installed in the chapel’s tower. The entire project cost “a bit north of a quarter million dollars.”
Conn said some friends of Lee, Jerry and Patricia Dixon, quietly made a major donation which made the project possible financially.
Added Conn, “The Dixons are business leaders from Wilson, N.C., whose daughter is a Lee graduate, and they have been helpful to us for many years.”
Harmon said it was a pleasure to work with the people at Lee.
“Dr. Conn is a very intelligent and committed man, and he is able to express his thoughts,” Harmon said. “And I really admire his tenacity to keep working to get what he wants. They are good people to work with.”
Continued Harmon, “I’ve done this for a lot of years, and I have worked with a lot of church people, and they are good, but the Conns and the people at Lee are exceptional ... I consider them to be my friends.”