A couple of years ago, the church I attend began a remodel. It began with fixing a leak and turned into a whole big redo of several spaces in the church, a new addition and some moving of walls. Just as the remodel was about to be completed, the pandemic hit and we had a fresh, new building that we couldn’t fully use.

One of the areas that got a “refresh” was the narthex of our larger, traditional worship space. They removed a small wall to open up the space and they redecorated. I won’t share my opinion on that, I feel that the older, more traditional space should have an adjacent welcoming area that is in the same style, but that is just me, so I’ll move on.

One of the things they did was remove the chandeliers that had been there since I can remember. Before they got rid of them, they asked if anyone wanted them and Homewood Theatre grabbed one. Since I had recently found a new hobby of refurbishing chandeliers, I was asked to “fix up” the tarnished old light.

I first took off the crystals to soak and clean, and began trying to polish the old brass fixture. The parts that really were brass cleaned up somewhat, but big parts of the light weren’t real brass, so they either peeled or stayed discolored when I tried to polish them up. I realized pretty quickly that leaving it brass was not going to be an option.

As I pondered the direction to go with the redo, I thought about the chandelier and what it had illuminated over the years. For me personally, it was overhead, lighting the way as I went to church there for the first time with my then fiancé, Tim. I had not grown up in a church and had only ever visited a handful of churches in my life, so the chandelier looked down on a very nervous young woman, entering a new space, that welcomed me and changed my life for the better.

About 6 months later, this chandelier lit the way for me as I came up the back stairwell, white dress flowing and a wreath of small white flowers in my hair. Halfway up the stairs, as I made that last walk as a single woman, I heard one bridesmaid whisper to the next that Tim wasn’t there yet. I entered the the Narthex, ready to walk down the aisle, wondering if I had been left at the altar! About 15 minutes later, we walked out, husband and wife. The chandelier saw it all.

The chandelier was there through the years as Tim and I worshipped together, being there 3 years later as we presented our infant son for baptism. And it was there again 9 years after that when I was baptized on our 13th wedding anniversary, a few months before I turned 40.

It was there for Jon’s confirmation, Tim’s mom’s funeral, countless holidays, homecoming concerts, Christmas programs, spring musicals, communion celebrations and so much more of what has made our life rich and meaningful.

It was there for other people as they waited to get married, remember their lost family members and make promises to the church on behalf of their children. It saw new members walk in to profess their faith and old members celebrate birthdays and anniversaries. It hung over babies crying too hard to be brought in the sanctuary and teenagers too cool to go inside.

After days of thought and reminiscing, I spray painted the body glossy black and set about reattaching the crystals. I didn’t put back as many as I had taken off, going for a “less is more” approach. The newly cleaned crystals caught the sunshine on my back porch where I worked, and sparkled like diamonds against the beautiful black body of the chandelier. The black seemed to bring out the intricacies of the arms of the piece. It was beautiful.

It was hung in the lobby of the new theatre and although I was very proud of the work I had done, I know that when I succeed in a project like that, it is because I kind of let go and let the creativity God put in me shine through. I can’t really take credit for something that I did in almost a trance!

I took the rest of the crystals and put part of them in a box to leave at the theatre in case one on the chandelier broke and a replacement was needed, and I put the rest in a smaller box and put them away for safe keeping. I’m not sure why. I kind of forgot I had done that.

My good friend Lynn has a really pretty necklace that I commented on. The piece looked like a chandelier crystal and when I asked, she explained that it was indeed a crystal that a friend of hers had made into a pendant for her. I told her how pretty it was and then went back to work.

This past fall, Lynn asked me about the crystals from the old church chandelier in the theatre lobby and I told her I thought they were in the storage area somewhere. She asked me several times and finally I thought to look in my craft cabinet in the carport and there were a few crystals in a small box. I got three out and gave them to Lynn. She showed me several necklaces her friend from work had made for her and we discussed the styles and types of work the friend did. (I really loved them all!)

A couple of weeks ago, I had one of those rare days that I was out most of the day. I had a doctor’s appointment, a couple of errands to run and then another meeting to attend. These days, a day like that is extra exhausting because of anxiety over the virus, different rules and protocols everywhere you go and just the uncertainty of everything. I got home and decided to just keep on my dress and heels rather than changing into comfy clothes. After all, it was only a little while until I would put on my pajamas anyway!

When it came time to cook dinner, I realized I couldn’t stand it anymore and changed into my sweats and fuzzy socks before beginning to cook. Just as I got back to the kitchen, Lynn called and asked if she could run by. Of course, I had been dressed cute all day and now that I looked like a slob, I was going to have company!

When I answered the door, there was Lynn with 2 small boxes. In one was a beautiful pendant- one of the crystals from the church chandelier on a chunky, antique silver chain that she had had her friend at work make for me, knowing how sentimental I was about the chandelier that had watched over me and my family for so long.

Then she gave me the second small box. Her friend had said that since she had two crystals left over, she was going to make a Christmas ornament out of them. Lynn asked if she could make two- one for me and one for my son Jon and his new little family. She knew that many of the things I had done and felt in that Narthex had involved Jon as well. I was overcome with gratitude for such a sweet and thoughtful friend and for the memories I held there in my hand.

Today we went back to church in the large sanctuary for the first time since March. We have been going to our contemporary service in our new space for several weeks, but this was the first week they had an 11:00 traditional service in the old sanctuary. I got dressed and absent mindedly put the crystal pendant around my neck.

It was midway through the service before I consciously realized that I was back in that sanctuary, wearing that crystal, and it was overwhelming. After all of the months away, the remodel and the redecorating, and all of the restrictions now, church is definitely not the same. For all of my love of change, for all of the rearranging and redecorating I constantly do in my own home, somehow the large, old sanctuary looking mostly the same, decked out for Advent, is comforting.

Having that small piece of the past around my neck, knowing where it has been, what it has witnessed, and how it came to be there with me, made me feel surrounded by love- love of a special friend, love of my church family present and elsewhere, and the love of God.

You can remodel the building, you can redecorate the building, you can even close the building, but what I have experienced there will always shine as brightly as the crystals on those ornaments and hanging around my neck. The memories will live on in me and hopefully, my child. Change happens, and that can be a good thing, but there is a special sparkle to our memories.

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Marietta is a graduate of the University of Montevallo with a BFA in musical theater. She has been performing for over 50 years on the stage and continues to perform, direct and teach. Marietta is married to Tim, has a son named Jon, and a cat named Penny.