Praise ye the LORD.During our recent vacation to Washington D.C., our family attended a worship service at National Cathedral. Although we arrived a little late and sat in the back of the sanctuary, we could not avoid the music of the pipe organ. We really didn’t listen to the organ. Thanks to the acoustics, we were surrounded, enveloped by the music. Our praises to God flowed with the sound of the pipes. It was a magnificent experience.
Praise God in his sanctuary:
praise him in the firmament of his power.
Praise him for his mighty acts:
praise him according to his excellent greatness.
Praise him with the sound of the trumpet:
praise him with the psaltery and harp.
Praise him with the timbrel and dance:
praise him with stringed instruments and organs.
Praise him upon the loud cymbals:
praise him upon the high sounding cymbals.
Let every thing that hath breath praise the LORD.
Praise ye the LORD.
Psalm 150 (KJV)
The organ has been playing church music for a long time. Around the late fourth century, St. Jerome describes an organ in Jerusalem that could be heard more than a mile away at the Mount of Olives. Still, not everyone in the Church has been a fan. As the Puritans stripped away ornamentation from worship, they dubbed the instrument, “the devil’s bagpipe.” Despite the criticism, the organ remained the preferred instrument for church music until the late twentieth century.
First Presbyterian Church has had its organ since our building was built in the late 1960s. For the time, it was one of the best electronic organs around. Over the years, we have been blessed with some wonderful organists whose music encouraged our own praise to God. Unfortunately, the electronic components of the organ have deteriorated over those same years. Soon, we will be forced to decide whether organ music will remain part of our music ministry.
Currently, the movement in church music is away from the organ. Many churches have replaced their pipes with keyboards and guitars. Over the next several years, more and more good church music will be available for these instruments. Our own congregation must learn how to better utilize guitar, keyboard and other instruments in worship. God deserves praise using the broadest musical palette.
Although organ music pushes against the trend, should it retain a prominent place in our worship? Certainly, the organ's voice is very different from other instruments. Without it, we do limit our options. Moreover, the historical repertoire of the organ has incredible depth and range. When we use these great pieces of music in worship, we touch the living faith of generations past. We acknowledge that the church is more than about us. The timeless and eternal often trump the “new and improved.”
The challenge we really face is not about the organ. It is about our music ministry. How do we develop the musical talents of our community to the glory of God? How do we encourage an appreciation of the musical heritage of the whole Church? How best do we minister with music in the name of Jesus Christ?