By Riley Manning
TUPELO – Months after the tornado that tore through the church, St. Luke United Methodist Church is still picking up the pieces in more ways than one.
The April storm caused extensive damage to St. Luke, including the shattering of its sizable stained-glass window. When the storm subsided, choir director Stacey Fowler and other church members emerged to pocket bits of the window as keepsakes. Fowler took it a step further and contacted glass worker Wynelle Benson of the Brewer community who is now making the colorful shards into cross-shaped necklaces to benefit the church’s Disaster Relief Family Fund.
“At first I thought, ‘I wonder if we could sell 100,’” Fowler said with a laugh. “Lord, we had our first batch of jewelry within a week of the tornado, and a week later we were overloaded.”
The first round of pieces numbered around 200, but with such high demand, Fowler decided to keep a list, and begin selling after making as many as they could. When one of the original buyers uploaded a picture of their necklace onto social media, interest went through the roof, Fowler said.
Benson, who has been working with stained glass for about four years, said by her count, she’s used her kiln to fire between 1,200 and 1,500 stained-glass crosses. Benson also has added her own flair by dressing the pieces with freshwater pearls and chunks of metal-infused glass.
“They brought me the pieces right after the tornado and said, ‘Can you do something with it?’ And I said ‘Sure,’ and they said, ‘Can you take it now?’” Benson said. “There aren’t many more to make. Pretty much the only glass left are just crumbs.”
Fowler said proceeds from the glass so far tally around $22,000, far exceeding the window’s initial value of $4,000. The stained glass was installed at St. Luke in 1991.
“Now sometimes we almost think the Lord’s multiplying this glass,” Fowler said. “It’s a neat keepsake, for people who want a memento.”
Benson said she’s also worked with porcelain, but stained glass, especially from churches, is by far her favorite medium.
“I’ve always been fascinated by the colors,” she said. “I’m not as crazy about pieces not connected with anything. There’s something special about wearing a piece of the church next to your heart.”
Fowler said the jewelry will be available for purchase to the general public at St. Luke on Saturday from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. For more information, contact (662) 213-7094 or e-mail email@example.com