History of Organs at the First Baptist Church of Christ
Years 1826 – 1884
Music has played a vital role in worship at First Baptist Church of Christ at Macon since the church’s founding in 1826. However, the earliest archival record of the use of an organ dates to 1860 at the church’s fourth location at 144 Second Street. The choir leader, Mr. I.R. Branham, donated an organ—most likely a reed organ. It was subsequently sold in 1863 with the proceeds being used to help defray the $1,500 cost of another organ (of unknown type or origin).
Years 1885 – 1949
In October 1885, as construction neared completion on the sanctuary at the top of Poplar, the chair of the music committee reported that “a new organ had been priced to the church at $2,800.” One month later, the unimaginable happened. A fire, which began in an adjacent building, spread to the church and heavily damaged the nearly-completed sanctuary, leaving “the front wall crumbled, the roof of the lower tower destroyed, and the top of the great tower empty, the bell having fallen from its position.”
The evening following the disastrous fire, the church voted to proceed at once to rebuild the damaged sanctuary to completion and authorized the purchase of the new organ from Henry Pilcher’s Sons Organ Company of Louisville, Kentucky, at a price of $2,500.
The Pilcher organ—consisting of 2 manuals, a pedal division, and 18 stops—played for the sanctuary’s inaugural worship service in May 1887. It remained in service for 62 years, until June 1949, though the church seriously contemplated replacing it in 1929-30.
Years 1950 – 1985
In the 1940s, Mr. W. Lee Wood, who had come to the church in 1934 as organist and financial secretary, championed the cause to replace the aging Pilcher organ. His guidance led the church to sign a contract with the Reuter Organ Company of Lawrence, Kansas to build a new instrument. Upon removal of the Pilcher organ in the summer of 1949, a chamber was built to house the new Reuter pipework above and behind the choir loft. This chamber continues to house the organ’s pipework today.
In January 1950, the church dedicated the new Reuter organ (opus 871), inviting Mr. Claude Murphree—who led the organ department at the University of Florida—to play for the service. The Reuter organ consisted of 3 manuals, a pedal division, 19 ranks, and approximately 1,400 pipes. An excerpt from the church’s bulletin at the time of the dedication: “The beautiful and majestic organ…is a modern three-manual instrument designed to give full and brilliant expression to the great compositions of sacred music. The organ has been placed so that the full tonal beauty can be heard by all and has been cased in an attractive grille designed to compliment [sic] the architecture of the sanctuary.”
The Reuter organ, valued at $18,000, was gifted to the church by the Mallary family in memory of Mr. Edgar Young Mallary, Sr., who had served as Chairman of the Board of Deacons, Superintendent of Sunday School, Music Committee Chairman, and teacher of the Mallary Bible Class at First Baptist Church of Christ. The 10 lowest pipes of the Open Diapason from the 1887 Pilcher organ were retained for decorative use in the façade of the Reuter organ. These non-functioning façade pipes were later removed during a sanctuary renovation project in 1967.
Years 1986 – 2015
In 1986, the church implemented Phase IV of a long-standing renovation plan, which included rebuilding the E.Y. Mallary memorial organ at a cost of $181,000.
The church awarded the contract to the Schantz Pipe Organ Company of Orrville, Ohio, and in May 1986, installation was completed. The Schantz organ (Opus 1822) consisted of 3 manuals, a pedal division, and 35 ranks of pipes. The only parts re-purposed from the Reuter organ were 3 ranks of pedal pipes and the shell of the organ console, making it essentially a new instrument.
Years 2016 – Present
In 2016, after 30 years of service from the Schantz organ, the church contacted the A.E. Schlueter Pipe Organ Company of Lithonia, Georgia, to discuss renovating the organ, including performing preventative maintenance, building a new console, and adding multiple digitally-reproduced pipe ranks.
However, prior to initiating the renovation, the Godsey family offered to donate the funds so that a new organ could be built in honor of Joan S. Godsey.
Honoring the stewardship of gifts for previous organ installations, approximately 60% of the Schantz pipes were re-voiced, re-pitched, or re-scaled for use in the Schlueter organ, including the 3 pedal ranks previously preserved from the 1949 Reuter organ. Floor supports were added underneath the pipe chamber to sustain the weight of the new organ.
Installation of the A.E. Schlueter organ began in late October 2017. Though originally scheduled for completion by Christmas 2017, the organ entered into service in February 2018. Today, Sunday, April 29, 2018, the church dedicates the Joan S. Godsey organ, which consists of 3 manual divisions, a pedal division, 51 ranks of windblown pipes (approximately 2,900 pipes) and 7 digitally-reproduced ranks.