Through My Lens: A Celebration Within

“Here’s the church. Here’s the steeple. Open it up and here’s the people!”
In the precious last years before hand-held electronics monopolized the days youth, this  was one of the “little games” I would play to pass the time as a kid. With fingers interlaced and palms turned upward, I’d recite those words and laugh with glee as the “people” wiggled uncomfortably close to my sister’s rolling eyes.   

Oddly enough, this is what ran through my head on the drive home after Celebration weekend. 
I started working at First Presbyterian Church of Dallas at the beginning of August, 2018. As the church’s Communication Coordinator, my days are mostly spent in the background: bulletins, website, newspaper, and so much more. 
I came on board mid-project, so I had never seen the Sanctuary before, especially not in it’s pre-restoration state. So as the year began to wrap up, I was understandably excited to see the highly-spoken-of place. 
I remember my first look inside: the Congregational Window (the giant arched, stained-glass window) was bigger than I had expected, and so was the dome! I had only seen photos, and the photos—though wonderful—did not do justice. 
As the weeks and months went by, I saw the beauty of the space seep through. The protective coverings were taken away from the stained-glass windows in the balcony. The rich wood floors were cleaned and stained. The pews were brought in piece by piece and reassembled in their own specific spots. The marble steps were swept, the new carpet vacuumed, the lights fine-tuned and before I knew it Celebration weekend was upon us. It was finally time to celebrate the the re-entry into the Sanctuary.

As I mentioned earlier, most of my work is done in the background. But on the night of the Celebration concert, I had the privilege of meeting a wonderful woman while taking photos of the festivities. During intermission, Dottie, a warmly dressed lady sitting in the back of the first floor, spoke up as I was passing by, “Are you a member here?”
“No ma’am,” I replied, “but I work here.”
We chatted briefly about some of the changes that had been made in order to bring the space back to its original condition. 
“It’s been around 50 years since I’ve been here, but it’s just as beautiful as I remember,” she said, looking up at the mosaic cross above the chancel. “I’m so glad I was able to make it out to see this.”

I can honestly say, I have never before been a part of a celebration like this. The thrill of seeing a community return to its home is something rare, something movies try to capture in futility. 
What I have come to realize though is that the the celebration was not just about the space. Yes, the Sanctuary is gorgeous, the renovation was monumental, and the effort was commendable to say the least. What I saw, however, was not just a celebration of drywall and stained-glass, but a celebration of togetherness. 
I saw packed tables of people eating and laughing together. I saw church leaders and staff rolling up their sleeves to serve plates of BBQ, 
as more and more people walked through the doors.
I saw families sitting and singing familiar hymns from their “normal” pews. I heard heart-felt notes of praise being lifted to an almighty creator. I saw friends reconnecting after not having seen each other in who-knows-how-long. 
I saw the tired eyes of a six-year-old, gazing up at painstakingly painted molding from the perch of her father’s shoulder. I saw—just a few pews over—the people who orchestrated the painting of that very molding, watching as the space they helped transform sprang to life.
I saw dedicated volunteers and staff members stay late to strike the concert set and set up a space perfect for worship, positioning the sacred furniture of the chancel just right. I saw eager musicians unpack their handbells in a space that had become accustomed to the sound of nail guns and saws. 
I saw bread broken, juice poured, hymnals opened and prayers prayed. I saw the people, living and loving as one.
What I saw was not a celebration of just a church or a steeple, but a celebration of the people within; and like Dottie, I’m glad I was able to be there to see it.

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The Author

Judson Watkins is the Communications Coordinator for First Presbyterian Church of Dallas. He can be reached at