Some things are meant to be, even though we’re all affected by tough economic times in one way or another. Two churches with a need that helped each other recently provide a great example of the power of persistence and determination with perhaps some guidance from above.
First, St. Luke’s Church in Washington, D.C. needed to reevaluate who they were in midst of a changing inner-city neighborhood. Second, Trinity Lutheran Church in tiny Topton, needed to replace their aging pipe organ, but its small congregation couldn’t possibly afford the quality instrument their church deserved. It was only a casual conversation between an organ builder and the inner city church executive who wanted to sell an unused organ that connected the needs of the two churches.
“I know a church,” the organ builder said, and the rest is history.
Members of Trinity Lutheran Church in Topton had considered refurbishing their instrument, but after nine decades of use, the congregation soon realized that replacement was the only option. Back when the 1925 Tellers-Kent organ was new, silent films were all the rage and organs were designed to complement motion pictures with calliope-like sound. The instrument was rebuilt in 1960, but with the inadequate winding system, wheezing of the leaky air chests, clacking of the magnetic relays, the lack of volume control, ancient wiring and missing pipes made the need for replacement obvious.
An organ committee was formed more than a decade ago at Trinity, which proceeded to visit other churches to educate themselves about the range of pipe organs available. About three years ago, a new effort was made to somehow find a way to purchase a new pipe organ for Trinity. Ten churches were visited, with consultations and bids encouraged from various organ builders.
After volumes of notes and advice from many well-known organ companies, none of the bids seemed to be affordable or a good fit for the congregation at Trinity.
Still, the committee of Myrl Andersen, Claire Roth, Sue Radcliffe, Kap Stauffer, Bill Moyer, Steve Schucker and Dave Ehrig persisted in tracking down information and people that might help in finding a quality instrument for their congregation.
Meanwhile, the congregation at St. Luke’s Church in Washington, D.C. found themselves declining in numbers and needing support. Six years ago, they decided upon a full merger with Metropolitan Memorial, which is the national church of the United Methodist Church. St. Luke’s church building became a shelter and worship space for the homeless.
Under the guidance of Executive Director of Operations Bill Potts of Metropolitan, many changes were made that would fit the needs of the neighborhood. For instance, the mission center now offers an alternative style of worship on Sunday nights, enhanced with a full contemporary band and bistro tables, lending a coffee-house feel to the worship space. Their traditional organ was therefore no longer useful, even though it was less than five years old.
By chance, Irv Lawless of Lawless Organ Company of Greencastle, happened to stop by at the office of Bill Potts to return some materials. This impromptu meeting set in motion events that will mean great things to both congregations.
“I can’t tell you how much this money (from the sale) means to our people,” Potts said. “ It will be used in so many ways.”
He coordinates a large ecumenical pool of volunteers, drawing from diverse groups such as American University, a nearby Jewish temple, National Cathedral and other area churches. He has developed DC Central Kitchen into an internationally known model for food re-purposing and distribution programs for feeding the homeless. It is associated with Friendship Place, which serves Washington, D.C., Maryland and Virginia and provides lodging for three campuses of homeless shelters. Other efforts include Shalom Place, which provides lodging for such projects as mission trips, and Crossroads, the alternative worship service which serves the mission at St. Luke’s.
Members of the organ committee, led by committee chair Dave Ehrig, joined with their pastor, Rev. Scott Staub and organist Steven Schucker in a meeting with Bill Potts at St. Luke’s on April 22. To the hard-working and persistent members of Trinity, the purchase of the almost-new Moller console and Lawless & Associates pipe organ brought some emotional smiles and tears. It was an opportunity to hear an informal concert on their new instrument, to marvel at its sound quality, and to dream of the day when it would be installed at Trinity.
The installation will probably not be completed until summer of 2014. There is much to be done. First, the instrument must be dismantled and reconfigured to fit its new home. The hundreds of pipes will be cleaned and retuned, and new air chests and blowers installed at Trinity. The new solid state relay system will eliminate the clicking from outdated magnets.
Certain changes will be made to allow the instrument more flexibility, so it can perform in both solo and ensemble performances. For instance, the addition of clarinets, zimbelstern, strings and tremolo on the great division, and more reeds will add more dimension to the organ’s performance.
The new instrument will be a great fit for Trinity. It is sized just right for the worship space. It offers adequate harmonic structure and color. It has the capability of accompanying the choir properly and playing a wide variety of organ literature. The new instrument will provide more control over the expression of the various divisions as well. There will also be digital playback capability, so that various pieces can be recorded and replayed.
The congregation at Trinity is working together to raise the money needed to fund the new organ. Volunteer congregation members will help with electrical and carpentry work on the organ chamber, which will save money. Fundraising to benefit the organ fund is ongoing, with Kauffman chicken sales, a pig roast, Topton Street Fair hot dog sale in May, and ‘Taste of Talent’ musical spaghetti dinner planned for September. A clever coin bank created from a large organ pipe was built by Phil Roth and stands at one of the entrances to the church. Other projects are underway to encourage people to take part in becoming an ‘Organ Donor’ in whatever way they can.
The congregation of Trinity Lutheran Church feels truly blessed to have been given this opportunity. It will be exciting to see and feel the joy as we share a wonderful new instrument with the community. It will enhance their worship experiences for many decades to come.