One Christmas carol includes the line “Let the merry organ go” – and there is nothing quite like the sound and feel of a pipe organ going at full belt.
Sadly, our own church organ hasn’t been merry for several years – in fact, it is quite sorry. That has led our Church Council to reluctantly agree that we should let our sorry organ go. Let me explain.
Our church organ was built in 1932 and overhauled and enlarged in 1988. Over the last ten years the organ has suffered several faults which were repaired. However, in 2016 a major consistent fault occurred on one of the three manuals where notes were sounding on their own, and this quickly spread to most of the organ making it virtually unplayable. This fault was traced to a fault in the solid-state switching gear, probably caused by a small lightning strike.
Furthermore, the organ hasn’t been properly cleaned or overhauled since 1988 – which would also be needed to get the organ working well again for another generation.
The total repair bill for the organ has been quoted at nearly £110,000. That’s a lot of money! To put that in context, we would need a 42% increase in giving for a year to foot that bill.
The unanimous decision of the Church Council was that spending that amount of money on the organ would not be good stewardship of the finances God has entrusted to us.
The question has arisen now because of our buildings development plans – we needed to let the architects know whether or not we wanted to keep the organ. We have been advised that the organ (when repaired) is fairly decent, and that there is a demand for organs of this sort in Europe.
Hence the Church Council also agreed that it would be willing to remove the organ (hopefully to be repaired and put to good use elsewhere). This would free up space in a building project – we could gain a room nearly as large as the existing foyer, or space for an additional 20-25 seats.
We understand that some people will be very dismayed at the thought of losing the church organ. Please be reassured that as a church council, we remain committed to the use of an organ sound as part of our worship. We looked at the costs for a digital organ (whose sound quality is so convincing that probably 99% people wouldn’t be able to tell the difference) which would still cost approaching £40,000. Or we could get a high quality keyboard with good organ sounds for considerably cheaper. We have not made a decision on those yet – but be reassured, we will worship our all-powerful God to the grand sound of an organ for many years to come!
We know that some people will feel that removing the organ loses a big architectural feature of our church. In fact, it would be possible to retain some of the façade of the existing organ pipes if we wanted to (purely as an architectural feature). It should be noted that the organ isn’t original to the building, and that because of its situation, the vast majority of people who come into our church never actually see the pipes!
In our Church Council discussion, the question was raised about weddings and funerals – and about the need for an organ at these events. In reality, the number of weddings and funerals who want a full organ sound is now very small. Many choose contemporary music, and over recent years we have made good use of high quality mp3 recordings of hymns and carols when needed.
Nothing will change in the short term. It is bound to take a long time to get the necessary permissions from the Diocese to remove the organ, and to find a buyer, and to arrange for its safe removal. In the meantime, we’ll carry on worshipping God with our voices and other instruments, with songs old and new.
“Let the message of Christ dwell among you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom through psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit, singing to God with gratitude in your hearts.” Colossians 3.16
In other buildings-related news …
We took a decision 3 years ago to sell the St John’s Centre. Since then we have liaised with architects, the City Council and local neighbours and are finally in a position to actually put it on the market – so you may see it advertised shortly. We know of a church who may be interested in buying the building as it is – and we will encourage a bid from them. (Under Charity Law, we are not allowed to sell the building privately – it has to be put on the market to establish the best possible price.)
We will keep you posted on progress in due course. In the meantime, whilst the building is on the market and whilst a sale is going through, a second Indian congregation are going to begin meeting in there regularly.