An Edmonds church needed a miracle if it was ever to get another organ to replace the aging one that had been cobbled together from disparate parts. In comes a Florida church with the godsend the Edmonds church needed.

Share story




Kathlyn James, the senior pastor for Edmonds United Methodist Church in Edmonds, is not a musician.

She understood that the church’s aging pipe organ had been cobbled together from disparate parts and would cost about a quarter-million dollars to repair.

But the long-held dream of her music directors — a $1.6 million organ designed specifically for their sanctuary by German master craftsman Philipp Klais, was no longer a reality. The economic recession had forced the church to cut staff salaries and implement unpaid furloughs. Gifts from church members were significantly down.

Even a promising Plan B — a beautifully designed pipe organ that was too small for a growing Florida congregation and was being sold for $275,000 — was no longer within the Edmonds congregation’s reach.

“We needed a miracle,” said Stephen Marshall-Ward, director of music and organist for the church.

The miracle came in the form of a gift from the Community Church of Vero Beach, Fla. Rather than dismantle their organ and put it in storage, they agreed to give it to the Edmonds church. New, the organ would have cost $1 million.

Sunday, the organ will be dedicated and a benefit concert held to help raise the remaining money needed to cover its transport and reassembly from 3,000 miles across the country.

James, who heard the new organ played for the first time at a Christmas concert, said the sound is “just stunning.”

“I believed him [Marshall-Ward] when he said there would be a difference in quality. But to actually experience it is very moving and very powerful.”

No longer a fit

By all accounts, the organ was languishing in its Florida home. Originally built by Pieter Visser, who learned his craft as a teenager in Holland, the organ had been moved from the original 300-person sanctuary for which it was built, to a new church building that holds 1,000.

“It went from being one of the favorite organs in South Florida to one that was not very well liked,” said Visser, whose firm, Visser-Rowland, is based in Houston.

Jose Daniel Flores, music director for the Community Church of Vero Beach, agreed that the move to the larger church and an attempted expansion of the 14-year-old organ were not successful. He said large pipe organs are built to the specific acoustics and size of their locations and are meant to be permanent.

The church decided to buy a new organ and put the old one up for sale.

In fall 2008, Marshall-Ward and his associate music director, Wanda Griffiths, saw an ad for the Visser organ, knew immediately of the firm’s reputation for quality, and visited Vero Beach, where they excitedly played the organ for two days and talked about how it might be modified to fit the Edmonds sanctuary.

But the stock-market crash and deepening recession put an end to their plans. Nine months passed, with periodic calls from Florida asking if there was any change.

Surprise offer

Then during Holy Week last spring, the head of the Vero Beach church called Marshall-Ward and said, “I think we have your miracle.”

The Florida congregants would give the organ to the Edmonds church.

While the decision wasn’t completely unanimous, Flores said, “We have a strong tradition of helping other congregations.”

That left the Edmonds church with six weeks to come up with $300,000 to disassemble, ship and rebuild the organ in its new home. The church rallied and raised $260,000.

The 6-ton organ arrived in Edmonds in late May. A team led by Klais, who had worked with the church on designing the dream organ that proved beyond its means, agreed to send a team to reassemble the Florida organ and begin the painstaking work of “voicing” it, that is, making the physical adjustments to its 2,200 pipes to produce the equivalent of an orchestra’s worth of sound.

The sanctuary at Edmonds is almost the same size as the one the organ was built for.

Last week Marshall-Ward, who had the dream 10 years ago of a high-quality organ built specifically for the Edmonds sanctuary, listened to rehearsals for Sunday’s concert. He stood at the back of the sanctuary and said he let the majesty and beauty of the new organ — joined with the voices of a children’s choir — fill him.

“I was almost levitating,” he said.

Lynn Thompson: 206-464-8305 or lthompson@seattletimes.com