Breathing new life into a Wilmington pipe organ [video]

 (Paul Parmelee/WHYY)

(Paul Parmelee/WHYY)

A downtown Wilmington church is asking the local community for help in rebuilding its 60-year-old pipe organ.

When the old organ inside The Episcopal Church of Saints Andrew and Matthew began to show its age 2 1/2 years ago, members launched a $1.35 million capital campaign aimed in part to rebuild the musical instrument.

“The campaign started as a combination of renovating our kitchen and our organ here at The Episcopal Church of Saints Andrew and Matthew,” said Pat Saunders, chair of the “Sharing our Blessings” campaign.

David Christopher, the church’s director of music, said members decided to upgrade the kitchen and organ because both play fundamental roles in the church’s outreach and music ministry.

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“Those are the two signature things that most people are really proud of here. Our ministry to the homeless, which is our breakfast on Sunday mornings,” Christopher said. “The other is our unique liturgy.”

SsAM’s wide-ranging musical repertoire includes Gregorian chant, hymns, gospels and jazz. 

With the kitchen complete, Saunders said the church is now focused on restoring the organ. While a good deal of fund raising has taken place, SsAM still has $350,000 more to go, $125,000 of which Saunders hopes will come from SsAM’s “Sponsor-A-Pipe” program.

Three pipes sizes are for available for sponsorship: a 4 inch pipe costs $50, an 8 inch pipe costs $250 and $1,000 can underwrite a 16 inch pipe. You can buy as many pipes as you want and each one can be dedicated in honor or in memory of someone.

“Many people and many organizations can use this church as a venue for performance and other activities, so this organ is really going to be a community organ which is why we’re asking the community to help,” Saunders said.

SsAM’s community has a broad membership. 18 years ago, St. Matthew’s Episcopal Church in Wilmington merged with St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church. Two years ago, the majority of the members from The Cathedral Church of St. John joined when their church closed.

With help from custom organ specialists, SsAM’s new organ will use organ pipes from the three parishes that now make up SsAM.

“We’re using pipes from these three instruments and creating a new instrument out of that, so symbolically, that’s really important,” Christopher said. “What it says to me [is] that we’re here to stay and now we’re investing in our future.”

The organ is scheduled to be installed in the fall of 2016. Until then, Christopher plays music on an electronic organ. While it produces a beautiful sound, he said the sounds from a real pipe organ makes it seem like the entire room is singing.

“There’s just something about the multi-dimensional sound. You have to realize you’ve got thousands of pipes emanating sound in all different directions mixing in the room, which is totally different than coming out of a speaker,” he said.

Saunders explained it another way.

“If you went to Longwood Gardens and they had plastic flowers they would look pretty, but they would not be the same as the real flower,” she said. “So it is with the electronic organ and the pipe organ.”

More information on how to Sponsor-A-Pipe can be found on the church’s website at


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