By Debbie Adams
Bonsack Baptist Church dedicated what was described as the “magnificent” new Walker 4 Manual digital organ in two special services on September 29. The public was invited to a hymn festival at 3 in the afternoon and then a concert by renowned organist Samuel Metzger at 5:30.
The choir from Bonsack Baptist was joined by musicians from Thrasher Memorial UMC, Greene Memorial UMC, and Raleigh Court Presbyterian, the Brass Five, and the congregation for the hymn festival program.
Dr. Chris Cadenhead, pastor of Bonsack Baptist, welcomed guests and shared some of the history that led up to the purchase of the new organ. The church’s original organ, purchased in 1988, was the victim of a lightning strike in 2015 and limped along with repairs until it became virtually impossible to find replacement parts.
A committee was formed in the spring of 2018 to research and make recommendations for the purchase of a new organ. Bonsack Minister of Music Rev. Grant Frederick noted that the committee soon heard a CD featuring a Walker organ in a performance by organist Samuel Metzger, and was “blown away.”
The early afternoon hymn program featured the dedication of the organ by Cadenhead, using the same liturgy the congregation followed when the previous organ was dedicated in 1988.
“With gratitude for our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, let us come now with the guidance of the Holy Spirit to dedicate this organ to the glory of God in whose infinite creativity the universe of music had its beginning,” he intoned.
“For the comfort of the sorrowing, the strengthening of the weak, the cheering of the weary, the stirring of the soul, the swelling of the chorus of praise, for help in singing the songs of your church, we, the family of Bonsack Baptist Church, and this community in the presence of almighty God, dedicate ourselves and this organ to the service of God and the servitude of humankind in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.”
Metzger accompanied the singing of hymns by the congregation which included “All Hail the Power of Jesus Name,” “When I Survey the Wondrous Cross,” “Amazing Grace,” “Great is Thy Faithfulness,” “How Great Thou Art,” and “We’re Marching to Zion.” The choir performed several anthems including “Psalm 150,” “My Eternal King,” “Love Divine, All Loves Excelling,” and “Hallelujah.” The songs were interspersed with passages of scripture read by Cadenhead.
The church honored guests and musicians with a reception after the hymn festival in anticipation of the concert by Metzger.
Metzger is currently the organist and music associate at Second Presbyterian Church in Memphis. He has been the recipient of two Fulbright Scholarships that allowed him to study in Europe. He served as senior organist at Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church in Fort Lauderdale, serving with the late Dr. D. James Kennedy. He is heard regularly around the nation in concert. He has recorded six CDs and his hymn arrangements are published by Morning Star Music. Many of them were used in the September 29 performances.
“The dedication of an instrument of this scope and quality is a milestone event in the life of
Bonsack Baptist Church and the surrounding community,” said Frederick.
“For decades the organ has played an integral role in the music making of our church,” he noted. “Bonsack’s original sanctuary, which is now home to Our Savior Lutheran Church, just across Route 460, required only a small Hammond organ to lead the congregation in vibrant singing.
“After moving to this location and anticipating the construction of this sanctuary, the church bought and dedicated our Allen Digital Computer Organ in 1988,” said Frederick. “For three decades that organ served us well. In 2015 the total failure of the instrument called for major repair and foreshadowed the necessity of a new organ.”
The fund for a new organ was created under the guidance of then music minister Barry Green.
After years of “sacrificial giving from our church,” including an anonymous major gift, the church formed the Organ Selection Committee in early 2018 and signed a contract with Walker Technical Company in short order.
Walker Technical was founded by Bob Walker in 1973. Walker is the lead “voicer” for organ installations and makes sure each stop sounds just right in each particular sanctuary.
The design of the new organ was a collaborative process between Bonsack Baptist and Walker Technical with creative input from consultant Mitchell Weisiger. Walker and Weisiger were both present for the organ dedication on September 29.
The unique French-terraced console was crafted by R.A. Colby Organ Builders in Johnson City, Tenn.
Frederick noted that “to fully replicate the grandeur of a pipe organ, this digitally reproduced Aeolian-Skinner contains 6,580 watts of total audio power and speaks from 59 speakers all around the sanctuary.”
“The organ will play for countless services of worship, weddings, funerals, solo recitals, and other special events and it will inspire us to worship God more fully,” Frederick said.
Metzger presented a concert which was described by members of the congregation as “glorious.”
He remarked that it was “a pleasure to play this instrument,” as he performed selections from Bach and Handel, “Great is Thy Faithfulness” arranged by Dan Miller, and “Finlandia” by Jean Sibelius.
He shared background on the pieces and composers, including “Amazing Grace,” which was written by a former slave trader, John Newton, after he was rescued by God from a terrible storm at sea.
Metzger also performed variations on “Amazing Grace,” which he had commissioned from Denis Bedard when the organ at his church in South Florida was dedicated, followed by a liturgical suite by Dan Locklair.
His last number, “Final” from Symphony No. 1, Op. 14, by Louis Vierne, organist at Notre Dame Cathedral from 1900 to 1937, showcased the “full breadth and power” of the new organ.
Metzger received thunderous applause and a standing ovation and was called back for an encore in which he performed the rousing “Liberty Bell March” by John Philip Sousa.
Frederick earnestly thanked all those who attended the concert and organ dedication and those who “made the organ and this day possible— an instrument to be used for the glory of God.”