Rockin’ a Hard Place: A beautiful remembrance to heal a forgettable time

Each of us has that wonderful remembrance to treasure.

Phyllis Sherman

Phyllis Sherman

Just after 2020 ended, as I was desperately trying to forget it, and as 2021 dawned and began to look equally forgettable, I was invited to come enjoy a beautiful memory.

Coupeville United Methodist Church, built in1893 and home to several generations of Central Whidbey farm families, has installed a new “remembrance window” in honor of a very special woman we lost a year ago: Phyllis Sherman. She was born on a local farm, went to school in Coupeville, married local farmer Al Sherman and raised four daughters on Ebey’s Prairie.

And she rarely missed a Sunday at the Methodist church, often organizing the potluck coffee hours, bringing altar flowers from her garden, cleaning the building and joining with other women in the Covenant Group to make sure things at the church were always “done right.”

Val Hillers, a member of the Covenant Group and longtime friend of Phyllis, sent me a note urging me to come see how well the window had turned out. “Phyllis passed away in January and the pandemic hit before we could think about how to honor her,” Val said. “This idea came up in April and May, as we were physically distanced and forced to worship on Zoom and catch up on phone calls. Then we went to work, hired a glass artist and had it installed in October. Many of our members haven’t even seen it yet.”

As they honed their idea, one thing was certain. Phyllis, who was 87 when she passed away, would never want anything in the church tagged with her name on a plaque. Not a pew, not a classroom, not the kitchen and definitely not a stained glass window. Therefore there’s no plaque or other information on the Remembrance Window. “That’s just who she was,” said Al, her husband of 64 years. “She knew the church belongs to everybody.” And so, the window is designed so that each person who views it may bring to mind their own personal remembrance, he said.

But why a window in this particular spot in the sanctuary? The row of clear windows next to the altar had always irritated Phyllis – particularly the center pane, which had been replaced at some point in the last 100 years with glass that was “clearer” and didn’t match the panes beside it. On many Sunday mornings, the sun could shine so brightly through the pane that many a parishioner was forced to squint during worship. Phyllis had often said she was determined to fix that. And now she has.

Julia Banks, a stained glass artist whose shop in Everett is appropriately named Covenant Art Glass, was hired to create the window. The finished piece features a garden pathway surrounded by a tree and lots of flowers, an appropriate memory of how much Phyllis loved to grow and share flowers. It is composed of vibrant glass colors, held together by a copper foil technique and anchored in a dark wood frame that matches the surrounding windows.

Al Sherman, Val Hillers and I met at the church on Jan. 7, one year to the day after Phyllis died. We spent quite awhile admiring the window; it became apparent to us how, as the sun sinks slowly behind it in the afternoon, the window’s hues shift and change with the light.

As we left the historic church building together, I remarked that I was so pleased that Phyllis had taken a liking to me, calling me more than once to say she liked something I wrote in this newspaper.

“Well, keep in mind that Phyllis took a liking to just about everybody she met,” Val said. To which Al quickly added, “She even took a liking to me!”

Each of us has that wonderful remembrance to treasure.

Harry Anderson is a former reporter for the Los Angeles Times currently living on Central Whidbey.

The new Remembrance Window at Coupeville Methodist Church honors Phyllis Sherman.

The new Remembrance Window at Coupeville Methodist Church honors Phyllis Sherman.

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