Idaho Church Window Once Depicting Robert E. Lee Now Honors Black Female Bishop - Word&Way

Idaho Church Window Once Depicting Robert E. Lee Now Honors Black Female Bishop

(RNS) — An Idaho church has replaced a stained-glass window honoring Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee with an image of the first African American woman bishop elected in the United Methodist Church. The new window, prominently featuring Bishop Leontine T.C. Kelly, was installed in the Cathedral of the Rockies in Boise on Dec. 7. Kelly, who died in 2012 at the age of 92, was the first African American woman elected to the episcopacy by a major religious denomination.

The decision to replace the window was made around the time of the fifth anniversary of the massacre at Mother Emanuel African Methodist Church in South Carolina — in which nine people were murdered in 2015 by a White Supremacist during a Bible study. The cathedral’s leadership wanted to take action to demonstrate its members supported racial justice.

A new stained glass window featuring Bishop Leontine T.C. Kelly (right) was installed in the Cathedral of the Rockies in Boise, Idaho, on Dec. 7, 2021. (Cathedral of the Rockies/Religion News Service)

“We recognize this section of our window is more than a benign historical marker,” the UMC church’s leaders wrote in a 2020 statement explaining its plans. “For many of God’s children, it is an obstacle to worship in a sacred space; for some, this and other Confederate memorials serve as lampposts along a path that leads back to racial subjugation and oppression.”

The leaders said their plans were further solidified after the 2020 killings of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, and Breonna Taylor sparked Black Lives Matter protests.

The old window, which featured Lee alongside Presidents George Washington and Abraham Lincoln, was deconsecrated last year.

The new window also includes the last names of Bishop Elias Galvan and Bishop Roy Sano to highlight the historic election of the UMC’s first Hispanic American bishop and first Japanese American bishop, respectively. Along with Kelly, the two were consecrated in the church’s sanctuary in a 1984 ceremony.

Rev. Duane Anders, senior pastor of the church, said the congregation hopes to give the old window to the Idaho Black History Museum in Boise to be used as an education tool. The church spent about $25,000 from earnings on endowed funds to pay for the new window.

“Many are happy that the window has been placed and the Lee window removed,” he told Religion News Service. “Only hate is from folks outside of the church that have not been on the journey of repentance.”

The new window places Kelly’s figure in a row of stained glass depicting the Apostle Paul; Athanasius, fourth-century bishop of Alexandria; and German monk Martin Luther. Within the panel that features Kelly, Galvan, and Sano, there also is a small image of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.

As people nominated whose image should be included in the new pane, Anders said King’s name was mentioned often. Adding the civil rights leader’s image was in keeping with the other original windows that include small remembrances of historical figures, Anders said.

The senior pastor said he expects the church will have an official consecration of the new window in a spring ceremony.

“This is a small step on the way to living as an anti-racist,” he added. “This is a small step toward living our call that God’s house (the church) is open to all. Removing a symbol of hate, slavery and racism is a step.”

Other churches across the country have considered replacing their memorials to Confederate leaders. The Washington National Cathedral announced in September that its stained-glass windows depicting Lee and Confederate Gen. Stonewall Jackson will be replaced with work by multimedia artist Kerry James Marshall related to racial justice. The cathedral removed the windows four year ago and the Lee window is currently featured in an exhibition at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture.