Downtown Wilmington church restores old pipe organ [video]

 (Paul Parmelee/WHYY)

(Paul Parmelee/WHYY)

Donations from hundreds of people across the country have helped a downtown Wilmington church restore its 60-year-old pipe organ.

The Episcopal Church of Saints Andrew and Matthew (SsAM) dedicated the new organ to Dr. Katherine Esterly on February 19, 2017. Esterly was a well-known pediatrician, community leader and longtime member of SsAM.

The organ’s 2,897 pipes represent the three diverse parishes that now make up SsAM. St. Matthew’s and St. John’s joined St. Andrew’s when their parishes closed. Pipes from the three different parishes were used to rebuild the musical instrument.

“I think all the people that were from those parishes sort of lament the fact that those don’t exist anymore, but at the same time they’re happy about this new incarnation of them,” said David Christopher, director of music.

It all started five years ago when the church launched the “Share Our Blessings” campaign. The church needed money to not only renovate their kitchen, but also their aging organ. Both are instrumental in SsAM’s robust community outreach and music ministries.

Campaign Chair Pat Saunders set out to raise $1.35 million. As of May 15, 2017, she had exceeded that goal raising $1.45 million.

“This has been truly a roller-coaster ride. And we’ve had really down moments and really up moments,” Saunders said. “I laid in bed many nights and wondered how we were going to get anything.”

In addition to grant money, Saunders said $100,000 was raised through SsAM’s Sponsor-A-Pipe program, launched two years ago. Through that, you could buy a 4-foot, 8-foot or 16-foot pipe for $50, $250, $1,000 respectively, in honor of someone.

“When you hear the organ played, and you have given a pipe for a loved one, that loved one is still with you — in the music, in that sanctuary, in that space,” Saunders said.

More than 450 people contributed to the campaign; some gave as little as $5; others donated as much as $200,000.

“Everybody gave what little they could, or a lot that they could, but together it has made the culmination of this wonderful organ here today,” Saunders said.

There are still opportunities to sponsor a pipe in honor of a loved one through SsAM.org.

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