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Evening Glory

December 24, from morning through afternoon to night time, is one of my favorite days of the year. It begins with our 47-year tradition of a day-long Studio Art Party gathering of mostly teen and pre-teen students. We enjoy painting, eating shared goodies, and drinking hot spiced and cold apple cider from our favorite Back Mountain orchard, plus hot chocolate, with or without mini marshmallows. Almost before we know it, the painting party ends, twilight approaches, and it's time to leave for various Christmas Eve Candlelight Services.

Another of my favorite traditions is my series of watercolor portraits of various churches InSide the Back Mountain in their glowing garb on snowy December evenings, specially created for this magazine. I enjoy painting their exteriors, illuminated by many lights playing on architecture, with the landscaping and surrounding environment included. Each year I try to honor the ecclesiastical spirit InSide the Back Mountain in three ways. I choose three churches separated geographically, but still located within the boundaries of the Dallas and Lake-Lehman School Districts; three congregations of varying Christian traditions; and three types of ecclesiastical architecture, ranging from the traditional steeple to the contemporary. Last year, the representative churches were Prince of Peace Episcopal, Kunkle United Methodist and Harvest Assembly. 2020 was dedicated to Cross Creek Community, Dallas United Methodist, and Our Lady of Victory RC. The first year I painted evening churches, 2019, I depicted Alderson United Methodist, St. Therese’s RC, and Fellowship Church. And there are still more churches to paint!

Inevitably, I am asked how I manage to find reference photos of the churches with snow romantically coating everything, perfect lighting effects, and churchgoers entering. Actually, I don’t! Each year in August or September, I photograph the structures, dust off my artistic license, and make it all up! And oh yes... I study and observe and sketch snow all winter long, how it lays on surfaces, drapes in mounds, and how it reflects color at night so I’m ready to paint next year’s winter scenes!

I snapped a few photos of Huntsville United Methodist last April before the leaves came out because I was concerned they might block my view of parts of the structure. It turned out they wouldn't have blocked anything, but I had Huntsville UM church's “Christmas Eve” scene drawn out and almost completely painted by the end of May! During the summer, my daughter drove past the church late one night, and, although the building appeared deserted, there were lights on inside the building! Heather snapped several reference photos for me and I was able to depict their beautiful stained glass! Huntsville is one of the Back Mountain’s very first settlements and the beautiful architecture of the Huntsville United Methodist Church verifies that claim.

I have to admit, my favorite church to paint this year was Gate of Heaven RC! For five wonderful years I taught fifth grade in the two front classrooms upstairs and made friendships which have endured for the past half century! The property was purchased in 1945 for a combined church and school at the intersection of Spring Street and Machell Avenue. The school opened in September 1951, with six grades. Grades seven and eight were added later. When I taught there, we had two classrooms for each grade, first through eighth. Although the school has since been closed, the church is still active, an enduring sight on Machell Avenue.

The Dallas Baptist Church has a unique history also. By 1966, a Baptist congregation affiliated with the Southern Baptists had begun to meet at Dallas Borough’s Eastern Star Building. In 1969, the congregation relocated to the former Free Methodist Church at 42 Mill Street in Dallas. Today, that building is the green structure behind Wendy’s that, except for its color, still resembles a church! In 1973, the congregation of the Dallas Baptist Church voted to purchase five acres of land in Idetown. Groundbreaking ceremonies were held in May 1981 and dedication services were celebrated in the new building that September. In one of the biggest surprises of my search for history about this year’s churches, I discovered that the Dallas Baptist Church has been adopted by Cross Creek Community Church! Many new and exciting ministry plans are being formulated!

This is the season of the year when we appreciate the past and look forward to the future. It's a time when we celebrate traditions of old and traditions newly begun. It's the time to join with the entire community InSide the Back Mountain, thankful for family, friends, fellowship, and freedom. What’s YOUR favorite tradition or moment of the season?

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