Bethesda Presbyterian Church Dedicates 'New' Organ
When the beautiful "new" organ is dedicated at Bethesda Presbyterian Church at 4 p.m. Sunday, Feb. 22, the connection linking Brownson Memorial Presbyterian Church in Southern Pines to the Aberdeen church established in 1788 takes on a new meaning.
The Schantz pipe organ first had its home in the church edifice at Brownson, which became known as the chapel with the erection of a new sanctuary in 1999. And the establishment of Brownson Memorial Presbyterian Church had its roots in Bethesda Presbyterian Church.
According to a search of the archives at Brownson, a short biography of Ernest Lowry Barber, the pastor at Bethesda installed in 1930, reports, "During this pastorate he became interested in a group of Presbyterians in Southern Pines who were without church connection. In response to their need, he organized a Sunday School in the early spring of 1935 and held two vesper services each month." Subsequently, the Southern Pines congregation voted "to make these Vesper services a regular feature with the Rev. Barber preaching."
Members of Bethesda encouraged the new congregation, among them Dr. and Mrs. Brownson. Archived documents refer to the prayerful support and "noble example" of the Rev. Marcus Acheson Brownson, D. D., pastor emeritus of the Tenth Presbyterian Church in Philadelphia, Pa., and further state that with the assistance of Brownson, Ernest Barber was "able to realize a long-felt ambition -- that of organizing a Presbyterian church in Southern Pines."
In the beginning, the church bore the name of The Presbyterian Church of Southern Pines. However, the congregation later resolved to rename the church after Brownson in recognition of his major contributions in organizing the church.
Fast forward to last year when plans were being made by the Brownson congregation to carefully deconstruct the chapel and build a new structure to accommodate the growing needs of the church. The celebrated chapel organ sat silent. What could be done to save it?
Chris Dunn, executive director of the Arts Council of Moore County and a former choir member at Bethesda Presbyterian Church, suggested to Bethesda's organist, Ruth Sinclair, that she should contact Michael Howe, the director of music and organist at Brownson, and explore what was going to happen to the chapel organ.
The Rev. Jonathan Wallace takes up the story.
"Being recently appointed pastor at Bethesda, I was told that we could have the organ as a gift, but that we would have to bear the expense of disassembling the instrument, moving it, and having it restored and refurbished," he says. "The lay leaders of the church and the congregation felt that this was an opportunity that could not be passed up."
The electronic organ then in use at Bethesda was original to the building and was at the end of its useful life, and it was necessary to find a replacement.
"This presented us with a chance to acquire a pipe organ, and not one from just any place, but one from a church that had its origins historically within Bethesda," Wallace says.
Michael Howe, who used to practice on the Schantz organ when he was home on vacation and weekends from his studies at East Carolina University, recommended the Charlotte-based firm of Cornel Zimmer to do the restoration work on the organ for the Bethesda church.
"I knew of their fine reputation and attention to detail from speaking with fellow organists in the area," Howe says. "They have completed projects at The Village Chapel in Pinehurst and at the First Presbyterian Church in Hamlet, among others."
The organ was moved to the Zimmer workshops in August, where it was "revoiced," and equipped with new elements. The original keyboard and pedals have been refurbished, and its life has been extended for at least 20 or 30 years.
The restored instrument was delivered to Bethesda in late November, for finishing touches, and it became fully operational the first Sunday in December.
Ruth Sinclair says the congregation came up and crowded around it.
"They were so excited," she says.
Large enclosures had to be constructed to house the pipes for the organ. The spaces were made over from storage areas on the second level on either side of the sanctuary above the pulpit.
Wallace says that all of the facing work was completed by three volunteers from the congregation -- Jim Ransdell, Davis Clark, and Bill Rock -- who spent long and hard hours finishing off the enclosures.
Ruth Sinclair finds having the Schantz organ in the Bethesda sanctuary an exceptionally fulfilling experience.
"I was the organist at Brownson for about two years in the late 1960s, just after the instrument had been purchased, so it is like renewing an old acquaintance," she says. "I can now play music that is authentic to the period in which it was written. In addition, when I play hymns on the pipe organ, I can go to a softer register, and the congregation follows right along in a softer volume, and then when I return to full volume, they are carried along in such a moving way."
"A fine organ adds so much to the life of a worshipping congregation," says Wallace. "A congregation singing together is very healing and comforting, very inspiring, and it is complemented by the accompaniment of this organ. To be given an instrument of this caliber and quality, and particularly because the gift signifies love and affection between the two congregations, makes it a very special happening."
The program for Sunday's dedication service of worship will begin with an organ prelude played by organist Dr. John O'Brien of East Carolina University, accompanied by the Moore Brass. O'Brien will play several organ solos, and Michael Howe will play an Adagio by J. S. Bach, as well.
The Bethesda Chancel Choir, under direction of Nancy Arnold, will sing several anthems accompanied by the Moore Brass, Larry Arnold, piano, and Ruth Sinclair, organ. Sinclair will also perform an organ solo.
"All of us at Brownson are thrilled that the organ from our chapel found such an appropriate home with our founding church community," says Dr. Grady Perryman, pastor of Brownson. "We could not be more pleased that its new location is with our own mother church -- Bethesda Presbyterian Church."
Angela Zumwalt contributed to this article. Contact freelance writer Mary Elle Hunter at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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