The church commonly known as the “beehive” for its connection to other area houses of worship will probably be buzzing on Friday, Sept. 27 when congregants host a special concert benefiting the city’s oldest functioning organ.
The Government Street United Methodist Church will open its big red doors to the general public at 7 p.m. for a concert featuring a number of musicians in hopes of raising money for the roughly 140-year-old instrument, Dr. Bert Park, the church’s pastor, said.
“There are four separate organists playing as well as someone playing on a baby grand piano,” Park said. “They’re going to be playing gospel, some traditional hymns and that sort of thing.”
The church has made a poster with a small drawing of an organ and pipes. As donations flow in, Park said, the pipes will be colored in until the fundraising goal is reached.
“Well, it’s a $100,000 project and we have $45,000 committed over the next two years for this,” Park said. We’re going to be putting in the console, it’s electronic, but it hooks up to the pipes so you get the original sound.”
The organ is older than the church, Park said, which dates back to 1890. As the number of non-Catholics in Mobile grew, the congregants needed a Methodist and Episcopal church in what was considered “out west” at the time. It was built right on the streetcar line and was the westward most stop, Park said.
“This church, at least, the ancestors of this church, go all the way back to 1826 when the first Methodist mission was formed by a guy named Lambeth,” he said. “They built two churches over the subsequent 30 years. One on St. Francis Street and one down on the corner of St. Michael and St. Francis. Here’s what’s interesting, they were within three blocks of one another and they drew straws to see which one of the churches was going to move out west.”
At that time, the church decided to purchase for $3,300 the “larger organ” from what was called the Franklin Street Church, retired Federal District Judge Randy Butler said. Butler’s great-grandfather, Capt. Albert Danner, donated $1,000 to move the 1,200-pipe instrument to the western church. Danner was also among the church leaders who agreed to pay the first organist $18 per month to regularly play it, Butler said.
The restoration project includes the installation of a new console for the organ, which will attach to the pipes electronically and allow an organist to play it, even while some of the pipes are being refurbished, Park said.
“That’s the beauty of it,” he said. “Once you put the console in, you can continue to play the organ as is, while we take the time to reconfigure the pipes.”
Andrew Atkinson, the church’s artist in residence and general manager of Broussard’s, said the electronic console and more than 1,800 watts of amplification will also allow the organ to fulfill the sound made from an even larger organ.
“That church is too large for that organ,” he said. “There aren’t enough pipes.”
The new console will add “digital voices” to help fill in the sound for pipes that don’t exist.
“No one will be able to tell which is playing,” he said. “It will basically triple the size of the organ.”
In addition to the new console, the church will pay to have new dampers, pedal boxes and footings installed.
“When we’re done it’s going to be one of the largest organs in the city,” he said.
Atkinson said visitors can expect six to eight musicians to perform on the organ and a baby grand piano that will be set up for the event.
In addition to the special event Friday, the church will also participate as a stop on an upcoming historic homes tour, sponsored by the Historic Mobile Preservation Society, Park said.
Visitors on Saturday, Oct. 5 can tour the church and other structures designed by George Rogers. Rogers is responsible for turning the church’s gothic architecture into more of a Spanish colonial style, Park said.
Danner, as chairman of the building committee, helped to hire Rogers when the church needed to be expanded in 1905. At the time it cost $28,000 to complete the renovation, Butler said.
“[Danner] and his three grandchildren, including my grandmother, were lifelong members of the church,” Butler said.
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