A lightning storm silenced the organ at New Covenant Presbyterian Church. When the church members arrived the next Sunday, it just wouldn’t play. For a few weeks, the congregation used the piano instead, but they missed the more majestic instrument.
“One day, some of the members came up and literally said, ‘Look, we need an organ. This is a church that likes organ music,’” says Don Reasons, the church’s organist. “So we just started looking. We didn’t know for sure what to do.”
Devon Hamilton, the music minister at New Covenant, made a call to Lakewood resident Dr. William Hansen, a retired dentist Hamilton knew as a regular organist for Restland Funeral Home. Hansen also had subbed in as New Covenant’s organist a couple of times.
“They had absolutely the worst organ in the world there,” Hansen says of the dead instrument. “I had told him, ‘You’ve got to get rid of it. It’s just awful.’”
So when Hansen learned that a bolt of lightning had fried the organ, his response was: “The Lord does answer prayer.”
It turned out that Hansen knew of an idle organ at Concord Missionary Baptist Church, formerly Hillcrest Baptist Church. While serving on the board at Criswell College, Hansen had met one of Concord’s associate pastors, the Rev. Myron Hardy. When Concord took over the church building, the congregation brought its own organ, so the Rodgers Oxford organ that had come with the sanctuary was rarely played. Hansen had been asking Hardy about the organ for two years, so when he heard about New Covenant’s dilemma, he put the two churches in contact.
“Mr. Hamilton told them, ‘We would love to have it — we just don’t have a lot of money.’ The pastor over there said, ‘We’re having a board meeting tonight. We’ll call you in the morning,’” Hansen says. “The next morning the pastor called him and he said, ‘We’re giving you the organ.’”
All New Covenant had to do was unplug it and move it out. It took about a week to install the organ in its new home, and Reasons immediately was smitten. He gushes about its 11 channels of sound and how it’s the largest production model Rodgers made before the company went digital. To replace the organ with a brand new instrument, he says, would cost between $85,000 and $100,000.
“We lucked out with this thing,” Reasons says. “Concord is a great big, very active, mostly African American congregation. They have 100 just in their choir; we have 90 to 100 on Sunday mornings in our congregation.
“What it amounts to is a big black Baptist church gave a little white Presbyterian church an organ.”
And it’s the best thing Concord could have done with the organ, Reasons says, because his congregation loves it. He credits Hansen for bringing the two churches together.
“Lord, this bunch would never have found it. It’s out of their little box,” Reasons laughs. “It’s big to even say the word ‘Baptist.’ That scares some of them off right there.”
The church held an organ concert with former Radio City Music Hall organist Robert MacDonald to dedicate the new instrument. Even so, Reasons says, the organ hasn’t been played at full throttle. It came from a church that seats 2,700, and New Covenant seats less than 300. He laughs about a couple in the choir who disagrees about how the organ should be played: The husband doesn’t like it too loud, and the wife wants Reasons to let it loose.
“Let me tell you a little secret — they ain’t heard it yet. They’ve heard it played on Sunday, but they haven’t really heard it open up,” Reasons says. “I don’t want anybody’s pacemaker to stop, and if I blasted out what it’s capable of, we’d have about six of them rolling over.”
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