Church initiates 'adopt-a-pipe' to raise funds for organ

August 29, 2006|by JANET HEIM

Rick Betson knows a good idea when he sees one.

When searching the Internet for fundraising ideas for repairs to his church's 75-year-old Moller pipe organ, he came across a church in Chicago that had invited parishioners and people with an interest in preserving the organ to "adopt-a-pipe."

As with older buildings, the maintenance and upgrade needs of Betson's church, St. John's Lutheran Church in Hagerstown, seem to be never-ending. Parishioners had recently been asked to help fund improvements to the church's Education Building, which included the addition of an elevator to make all three floors of the building accessible.

Betson said he didn't know anything about pipe organs or what was involved with the repair. It was at a council meeting, as a newly elected member of the Church Council, that he first heard the details of the condition of the organ.


The four-manual organ, which was a gift to the church in 1931 by Matthias P. Moller, needed to have the leathers under each of its 3,667 pipes replaced. As the leather ages, it dries out and splits, causing air to leak from the pipes.

The Organ Committee also wanted to have solid state switching in the rest of the pipe chamber installed, eliminating the need for any future work on that part of the organ. The committee warned the congregation that the organ would become unplayable if the repairs to the historic organ weren't made promptly.

The repairs, which began in October 2005, are being done by Hagerstown Organ Company at a cost of more than $143,000. The organ is still able to be used while repairs were being made.

Organist Mary Ward said the work is about 50 percent done and is expected to be completed by the end of January 2007. Ward has scheduled a recital for Feb. 18, 2007, to celebrate the restoration of the instrument.

The congregation, not wanting to risk further damage to the organ, approved the expenditure in the spring of 2005, before formulating a plan to pay for it.

The history of the organ dates to 1900, when Matthias P. Moller gave the church its first Moller organ. Moller was the founder of M.P. Moller Organ Co. and was a member of St. John's, adding to the connection members have with the organ.

The organ was placed prominently in the sanctuary and was ranked as one of the largest and most complete organs in the state at that time.

In 1931, a new four-manual organ designed and built by Moller was installed. Many of the pipes from the original organ were used for the bigger instrument. It also included an Echo Division, pipes in a different location from the main pipes, to give an echo or responsive effect.

After lightning struck the church on July 20, 1969, the Echo and Antiphonal Division of the organ were destroyed by fire. In 1970, the organ was releathered and an antiphonal organ with exposed pipes replaced the burned-out divisions.

At that time, the ornamental pipes behind the choir loft were replaced with a metallic screen, with the intent of improving sound quality. Instead, the screen became filled with dust over the years, blocking the flow of air to the organ chamber and detracting from the sound.

Ornamental pipes, spaced to allow for air flow, replaced the screen in 2003, seven years after the console was converted to solid state circuitry.

"I felt that there were a lot of people like me - I couldn't donate $1,000, but I could donate one or two pipes at a time," Betson said.

Betson presented his idea to the church's Organ Committee, who liked the idea. Fran Ruth, another church council member, has agreed to co-chair the adopt-a-pipe campaign with Betson.

Ruth has taken on the responsibility of printing out and mailing certificates to commemorate the pipe adoptions.

The Organ Committee structured the Adopt-a-Pipe campaign to allow any size financial gift.

A $50 contribution would cover a small pipe, those eight feet and under. The large pipes, which are larger than eight feet, can be adopted for $75.

The committee is hoping that contributors will adopt all 3,677 pipes of the organ, which would cover the cost of the repairs and add to a newly created organ endowment fund to help with future repairs.

To date, about 600 pipes have been adopted.

Betson and his fellow committee members also thought people might be more inclined to contribute if their donations can be made in memory or in honor of someone or to mark a special occasion, such as a birthday or anniversary.

"If everybody gave up one birthday or Christmas, it wouldn't kill us. To the grandkids who don't know what to get their grandparents, say 'Here, do this for me,'" Betson said.

Betson hopes the fundraising effort, which will be highlighed on the church's Web site at, will reach beyond the church's members, that there are other people who have a strong connection to St. John's and it's organ and will want to help preserve it.

For information on adopting a pipe, call the church office at 301-790-2510.

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