Lebanon Presbyterian restores pipe organ

The congregation reaps the rewards of their faithfulness.

The Shantz organ installed in 1965 at the Lebanon Presbyterian Church had been designed by a professor at the Cincinnati College of Music. The instrument had provided the church with several decades of faithful service, but by 2002 it had fallen into disrepair. The following year, organist Tom Ferris seized the opportunity to tell the new minister of worship and music, Rick McNeely, about the sound problems.

“Within the first two weeks of my new job, Tom took me out to lunch and told me about the condition of the organ and the challenges he had been facing at that point,” said McNeely. “Even though he was very adept at hiding the problems, we started coming up with a plan and hit the ground running with fundraising.”

That church campaign began in March of 2012, and in less than four months the congregation had raised a total of $328,000 of the $465,000 goal.

“We didn’t want to go into debt for the new organ, and it took less than a year to raise the full amount. We have about 700 members, and the congregation thrives when given a challenge,” said McNeely. “I was overwhelmed and amazed, especially during that particular year when the economy was down.”

Besides Ferris and McNeely, the organ restoration committee included co-chairs Gary Cunningham and David Palmer. They chose the Bunn=Minnick Pipe Organ Company in Columbus to do the job. The president and pipe voicing representative spent two and a half days early in February to check the final voicing and make adjustments.

“The committee worked very hard. We made many trips to Columbus, watching the rebuild,” said Cunningham, a 37-year member who was married in the church. “We think that God is pleased with what we’ve done. The first time we heard the new organ, it brought tears to my eyes.”

The project took a little over a year. In the meantime, the church pianist, Daniel Sachs, provided most of the background music for the choir.

The church membership is having a reservations-only dinner and dedication service for the new organ on Sunday, March 2, at 5:30 p.m.

“The Bunn=Minnick representatives are fine Christian people; they are very magnanimous,” Palmer said. “This organ now has 3,000 pipes, and a new console with three manuals. This pipe organ is magnificent; it’s the king of instruments.”

Ferris couldn’t agree more. It was clear as he was showing me all the features of the new organ how proud he was to play this instrument for worship and church functions. The lights were turned on so I could view all of the pipes, ranging in size from a few inches to 16 feet tall. He showed off the three chambers of pipes: grate, choir and swell, and how each group corresponded to the three keyboards on the organ itself.

“Bunn=Minnick was wonderful; they did a great job of expanding our current organ and adding the antiphonal, which has additional pipes in the rear of the sanctuary for an echo effect,” said Ferris, who has been the Lebanon Presbyterian organist since 1997. “The congregants love the new variety; now they can hear all of the pipes and divisions.”

In addition to the organ expansion, the money was used to buy new pews, and add a new facade in the front and back of the sanctuary. The new organ was put into service for the first time Nov. 18, 2013. It was for a memorial service for long-time member Bob Cantoni. His widow, Jane, requested that Ferris play the Miami Fight Song in his honor. Cantoni had served as Miami University-Oxford alumni association president.

For the first time he played before the congregation, Ferris chose a nostalgic and familiar hymn.

“Instead of a big prelude or something like that, the first song I played during Sunday worship was ‘Holy, Holy, Holy’,” said Ferris. “It’s one of my favorite hymns. It’s the one I played when I first began as organist. It’s the first hymn that occurs in our hymnal, and it was the last song I played before I turned the old organ off.”

“The most important part of the story is the real purpose of an organ in the church; it’s to lead worship. You can have all the concerts and recitals that you want, but an organ is for worship,” Ferris said.

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