A Tale of Two Worship Services

I was going to follow up my last post with more detailed information about organ audio systems, and I’m still going to do that!

I just, however, had two worship-service experiences that I felt were more important to share right now. I attended two worship services under two very different circumstances, and came away with two very different impressions. It underscored, for me, the importance of the organ as the best instrument to lead worship singing.

Why use an organ, anyway?

To begin with, a bit of background. Naturally, I have a passion for the pipe organ and its history. That’s the reason I am involved with Allen organs in the first place. I often tell people (any who will listen, at least!) about the legacy of the organ and its use as an instrument to accompany congregational singing.

The pipe organ was first used as an instrument for accompanying liturgical singing some 400-500 years ago. That’s a long time for an instrument to persist as the preferred choice; and there’s a reason for that persistence: It’s the right “tool for the job.”

Congregational singing—at least where churches want the congregation to participate in the singing as opposed to sitting back and being “entertained”—requires musical leadership. When successful, that leadership comes in several forms including the choir, the director, and certainly not least, the instrument. The fact is that no other instrument is as well equipped to truly lead a congregation in singing as the organ. There are dozens of reasons for that to be the case, which I won’t delve into here; however, it is a quantifiable reality.

About those worship services.

The first service I’ll describe was the inauguration of the updated audio system for the organ at Chester Baptist Church. The congregation there embarked on a project beginning a few years ago, to completely revamp the audio system of the 20 year-old Allen organ there. In May of this year, that upgrade was finally purchased and installed.

[Sidebar: The original audio system was the minimum for that instrument consisting of only four audio channels. The new system has eight audio channels and includes a big sub-woofer for the pedal 16’ and 32’ stops, an expanded audio for the Choir division, all new Herald-series Allen speaker cabinets and all new M100 audio amplifier modules. It’s interesting to note that the congregation felt it was worth making this investment, even on a 20 year-old digital organ; such is the construction-quality and reliability of an Allen!]

The church organist and I conducted a hymn-sing event where we each played some hymns and a few other special selections. In a church that holds about 350 people, there were around 60 people attending. The organ filled that room beautifully, and notwithstanding the small group, the singing was amazing! I have heard congregations of 200 that didn’t create as much sound as that group.

The second service I attended was the re-dedication of a substantially altered worship space. Over many years, this congregation had diminished in attendance and the old church building had reached the point of having many structural issues and becoming very expensive to heat. The congregation made the decision to essentially down-size in the same space by completely renovating their building to incorporate a much smaller worship space, but have it multi-functional with a kitchen and meeting spaces nearby, with everything on one floor.

I’ll comment that they did a lovely job on the renovation and I believe that they have created a much more appropriate space for themselves in the process. One change that I felt was unfortunate, however, was sacrificing their pipe organ. There were several arguably valid reasons for this to happen, which included the difficulty in finding someone willing to play the organ and the space that the organ would have required in the newly configured building.

This congregation made the decision, therefore, to abandon the organ and use a piano to lead congregational singing. Well, in a space that is about one-third the size of Chester Baptist, but with an assembled congregation that was about double the size of that in Chester, the congregational singing was, at best, adequate. Given the different parameters, I would have expected the roof to be raised in there, yet it seemed underwhelming to me.

The most important difference was the instrument being used to lead the singing. The piano was fine, but it was in the corner and difficult to hear. A properly designed and installed organ, meanwhile, fills the space with music and truly leads the congregation in praise of God.