The Christmas season was just beginning. A standing-room-only crowd of more than 600 had gathered in the sanctuary of the Church of the Covenant. The occasion was the annual concert and carol sing, the joyous finale of Holiday CircleFest, a daylong celebration in the heart of University Circle. 

University Circle is a unique neighborhood in the heart of Cleveland’s east side with renowned health care facilities, museums, the Cleveland Orchestra and Case Western Reserve University. The CircleFest event attracts residents from the entire region, and the concluding concert was a coming together of choirs including Windsong, Cleveland’s feminist chorus; the Church of the Covenant’s hand bell and chancel choirs; and the Case Western Reserve University concert choir and orchestra, all together totaling more than 150 musicians. 

At the close of the concert, those gathered exited the front doors of the newly renovated gothic sanctuary and proceeded across Euclid Avenue, now labeled the HealthLine. This route connects University Hospitals’ Case Medical Center, the world-renowned Cleveland Clinic and the Cleveland Medical Mart in downtown Cleveland.  

And there they experienced the treat of the century. 

The Church of the Covenant, built on its present site between 1909 and 1911, was concluding a centennial celebration that included a total renovation of its sanctuary and the upcoming installation of a newly donated Newberry organ in the rear gallery. 

While gifts from Covenant members and friends made this magnificent instrument possible, the resources needed to completely renovate the sanctuary would be another matter. But poor lighting, dead acoustics and general deterioration of the century-old building made renovations necessary. 

The newly renovated sanctuary at Church of the Covenant was filled for the Holiday CircleFest carol-sing.

The newly renovated sanctuary at Church of the Covenant was filled for the Holiday CircleFest carol-sing. —courtesy of Church of the Covenant

In 2010, the Rev. Robert (Bert) Campbell, Covenant’s pastor, received notice of an unexpected significant gift from a descendent of the Rev. James D. Williamson, one of the church’s three founding ministers. 

Over the next 10 months, a total sanctuary renovation, recognized by both national and local historical societies, was completed.

But that seems to have been only the beginning of God’s plans to reach out to the community.

Concurrent with the centennial happenings at Covenant church, University Hospitals, located directly across the avenue from the church, built the $260 million state-of-the-art Seidman Cancer Center. The grand opening of the cancer center in 2011 included the dedication of a Healing Garden, complete with an in-ground labyrinth that directly faces the church’s sanctuary.

Now those meditating in the garden, patients in the cancer center and loved ones in the waiting area are able to look upon the church and its grounds regardless of religious persuasion and receive comfort from Covenant’s illuminated tower and front doors during the lonely night hours. 

The thought of enhancing this view by lighting one of the church’s two large rose windows had been considered from time to time. The windows were never designed to be lit from the inside, but the lighting firm that designed and built replicas of the 1909 lighting for the sanctuary renovation developed an intricate plan that included sliding panels made possible with newer advanced technology. 

The mechanism, hidden by the new organ during the day, would be raised at night to illuminate the window’s exterior. But the cost of such installation was deemed prohibitive and “lighting up Rosie” was relegated to the dream pile.

Church of the Covenant is reflected in the windows of the Seidman Cancer Center in Cleveland.

Church of the Covenant is reflected in the windows of the Seidman Cancer Center in Cleveland. —courtesy of Church of the Covenant

What followed was something that can only be credited to God’s grace. 

Two church members were having dinner with the president of University Hospitals when the subject of the rose window was casually mentioned. Commenting about how many at the hospital appreciated the comforting view of the church grounds, the hospital executive remarked how meaningful it would be if the window could be lit. 

Over the next several weeks a partnership was created, again underscoring the collaborative spirit of this unique community, and on that cold but heartwarming evening those gathered for CircleFest exited the front of the sanctuary, crossed the HealthLine and, while gathered for hot chocolate and cookies in the Healing Garden, saw “Rosie” the magnificent window illuminated for the first time. 

Those gathered joined in one concluding carol, dedicated to those seeking their own advents of healing and hope. 

When people of faith and institutions of healing join hands in cooperation, God surely smiles on what the world can be. 

The Rev. Bert Campbell is pastor of Church of the Covenant. Lyn Cooper Tomaszewski is the congregation’s communications director.