A well-loved organ finds a new home

Bethesda Moravian has closed. I wonder if their organ might be suitable for us.”

Those words, spoken by Caroline Council in mid-2018 during a meeting of First Moravian’s (Greensboro, N.C.) organ committee, launched the committee on a trajectory that concluded May 7, 2023, with the long-delayed dedication of the congregation’s Organcraft organ.

In mid-2018, First Moravian’s organ committee had reached a dead end in its effort to replace its aging and deteriorating eight-rank Wicks organ. The Wicks organ was the instrument that long-time organist, the late Dr. George Kiorpes, had played from its installation in the mid-1960s until his retirement in November 2016. Since the organ committee began meeting in April 2017, it had reviewed proposals from six companies and had met with four builders to discuss the project. The committee also traveled to two churches in North Carolina to inspect organs for sale that sounded promising but ultimately proved unsuitable for First Moravian’s sanctuary. Organs listed for sale in trade publications and online all seemed to be too big, too expensive and too far away for consideration.

By that time, the organ committee was working with consultant Susan Bates, a respected organist who is now an adjunct faculty member at Wake Forest University. Challenged by Bates to continue looking for a “jewel,” the committee was uncertain where to turn next.

So, what about Bethesda’s organ?

Committee chairwoman Sue Kiorpes wasted no time calling the Salem Congregation, of which Bethesda Moravian was a part. Kiorpes learned that the church’s 20-rank Organcraft organ, installed by Dr. Harold Andrews in 1995, was in fact for sale. So, on Nov. 3, 2018, six committee members, accompanied by Bates, traveled to the church in Winston-Salem to inspect the instrument.

What they found was intriguing. Bethesda Moravian conducted its final worship service on Dec. 31, 2017, so by the time First Moravian’s committee visited, the church had stood empty for nearly a year, and the organ had not been played, tuned or protected from heat and cold in the intervening months. But when Bates tested the organ, she was impressed with its sound. Could this be the jewel they sought?

In the following weeks, the organ was also inspected by Morris Spearman, owner of Spearman-Hawkinson Inc., a pipe organ building company in Charlotte, and Dreama Lovitt, organist at West Market Street United Methodist Church in Greensboro, and both gave the instrument their approval.

At this point, the committee began to believe its dream of a functioning organ at First Moravian was within reach. It was time to address financial matters. So, what was the price of the Bethesda organ? The astonishing answer from the Salem Congregation was $500 – essentially a gift to First Moravian, one that would keep a bit of Bethesda Moravian Church alive.

And where did that $500 plus the additional thousands of dollars needed to remove, transport, renovate, upgrade and install the organ in the sanctuary of  First Moravian come from? Well, that’s another tale of unexpected blessings. The bulk of the money came from the estate of Marian Adams Smith, a Greensboro woman who was raised in the Moravian church and faithfully attended First Moravian’s Christmas Eve lovefeast services with her family. When she died on Dec. 15, 2017, Smith’s family asked to have her memorial service at First Moravian and, forewarned by then-pastor Tony Hayworth about the shaky condition of the church’s organ, made a generous donation for an organ replacement project. Not long after that, Smith’s children made another, even more significant contribution to the organ fund. Bolstered by a handful of other donations, including a substantial gift in memory of the late Howard James Moore, who was married to long-time First Moravian member Scottie Moore, the organ fund more than covered the cost of the project, with a healthy amount left over for future maintenance.

Organ builder Spearman began dismantling the Bethesda organ and moving it to Greensboro in May 2019. First Moravian’s men provided sweat equity, helping Spearman and his assistants transport organ components from Winston-Salem to Greensboro and remove the old organ from the chambers above the choir loft. During this time, with First Moravian’s music director Jane McKinney serving as project manager, the openings into the organ chambers were enlarged, and the pipes were moved into place in October 2019. Spearman completed installation in early summer 2020. Chimes were added in fall 2020.

The organ dedication was originally scheduled in May 2020 but was repeatedly delayed by COVID-19. With the arrival of the Rev. Barbara Styers in January 2022 and the resumption of on-site services, the congregation has benefited from the new organ.

The dedication concert featured performances by Bates, First Moravian organist Ann Curtis, the Chancel Choir and Jay Lineberry on trumpet.

“I couldn’t be more well-pleased,” said Sue Kiorpes. “Everywhere you sit in the sanctuary, the organ is absolutely beautiful. It was the perfect size for our sanctuary.”

Penny Wofford is a member of First Moravian Church of Greensboro, N.C.