By Christine Galeone, Contributing Writer
Shrewsbury – Around 1890, Jesse Woodberry of Woodberry & Harris built an exquisite pipe organ for a church in the Abington area. One of about 30 organs the Boston-based company made, it served the church for over 60 years but eventually wore out and was sold and stored – for Andover Organ Company employee Richard Westerfield – in someone’s garage until that person moved in 1981. If it weren’t for John Morlock, Westerfield’s co-worker, that might have been the end of the story for the organ.
Morlock was a friend of Reverend Cliff Gerber, the pastor at Mount Olivet Lutheran Church in Shrewsbury at that time, and he knew that the church hoped to buy an organ. He helped arrange a sale of the instrument to Gerber for $1,000. Since then, that antique tracker organ has fulfilled the hope of the church’s original congregation, and it has brought joy to subsequent generations.
But the beautiful music didn’t play right away. Restoring the organ to its original state would be extremely expensive, so Morlock proposed an alternative.
“He proposed that the chests and other crucial working parts of the tracker organ be rebuilt by the Andover Organ Company,” Gerber recalled, noting that Morlock volunteered to “re-voice and expand pipe work and to reassemble the organ.”
“Another $2,000 to $3,000 would be needed for a modern organ blower and additional pipes,” he added. “Volunteers from the congregation would refinish the organ…and lend John and his fiancée, Fay, hands for heavy lifting. For a total cost of about $10,000, the congregation would have a rebuilt antique organ that would easily be worth $100,000.”
Among the volunteers were Randy Rice – the church’s organist – and Gerber, who restored the keyboards and painted the wood surrounding them. The church’s shared dedication was one of the reasons Gerber said the organ “holds a special place” in his heart. He’s also grateful to the people outside the congregation who worked on the project.
One such volunteer was Molly Porter, a local artist with knowledge of early decorative arts. Gerber knocked on her door with hopes of hiring her to restore the designs that had been painted on the organ’s case pipes. Instead, Gerber recalled, Porter said she wanted to volunteer her time and the materials as a labor of love.
The organ was completed and dedicated in the spring of 1982. But the current pastor, Reverend Andrew Heisen, said the instrument is still deeply treasured by the congregation.
“Music is a central aspect of Lutheran worship, and this organ has served us beautifully in supporting the singing of the congregation,” Heisen said. “Today, the organ symbolizes the efforts and love of our members to build our little church community in a way that gives glory to God.”
Eileen Straub, the current organist, couldn’t agree more. Her favorite hymn to play is “Now All the Vault of Heaven Resounds.”
“It’s a frequent choice for our Easter Vigil,” she said. “We literally meet in different areas of the building…the last location being the sanctuary, which is decorated in white with lots of Easter lilies. We keep the sanctuary doors closed and the lights off until it is time to enter. When the doors are opened to the congregation, we turn on the lights as they enter to the sound of that hymn being played on the organ with all the stops pulled. It is a glorious way to usher in Easter.”