MEMORIES OF GAY STREET'S PIPE ORGAN
from Melanie McMillan
It was on a Good Friday, and I wish I could remember the year. The only point of reference I can provide is that I was in middle school or my first year of high school. That puts my age around 14 or 15, which means this memory is more than 40 years old.
It was evening, and I stood alone in Gay Street’s choir loft with the practically-iconic Bob Hendrickson seated at the organ. United Methodist Youth Fellowship was in charge of the service, and my friend Darcy insisted that I sing a solo. With friends and family seated in the front row, I launched into a rendition of, “Were You There?” Everything went smoothly until I reached the final verse. That’s when I froze. I even had the hymnal in front of me, but the words simply wouldn’t leave my mouth. I remember saying a silent prayer at that point. It was something along the lines of, “Uh oh, God. Please help me through this. I’m stuck.”
Without missing a beat, Bob Hendrickson played the entire last verse while I just stood there, silently, looking straight ahead. To this day, I don’t understand why a case of the nerves hit me. But it doesn’t matter, because the Holy Spirit had my back.
That is probably my most memorable experience involving Gay Street’s pipe organ, but there are others. I remember how the organ was often a topic of conversation on the drive home after church, with dad sometimes mentioning how he thought it might have been too loud. Bob sure could make that pipe organ rock. Sometimes the sanctuary would literally vibrate. I’m not kidding. Although that was a little too theatrical for dad, I absolutely loved it.
Also forever ingrained in my memory is the majesty the pipe organ contributed to services on Christmas Eve and Easter Sunday.
When I returned to Mount Vernon three years ago, after being away for almost 30 years, it was inevitable that I would end up at Gay Street. It was where I was baptized, confirmed, and married. I left Ohio for a job in the Northeast where I pursued my career and did graduate work at Hartford Seminary. When I lived only a few miles outside of New York City, I became an Episcopalian and worshipped with the congregation of Saint Saviour at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine. At another stage in life, I attended an independent fundamental Baptist Church, and later on even a few Catholic masses rounded out my religious experience. There’s something about being a seminary student that encourages a seeker mentality. Still, I always knew that deep down I was a United Methodist. And Gay Street has always been my touchstone.
A Prayer Line
It saddens me to learn that our congregation is facing a difficult decision about the pipe organ, and I understand this has already started to cause some divisiveness within our church family.
As I sat in the sanctuary last Sunday, I tried to imagine our beautiful space without those pipes. At the same time, I also tried to imagine how we would ever pay for a new pipe organ without creating a financial hardship for our church.
I don’t have a solution for the predicament we’re in, but there is someone who does. God already knows the outcome of whatever decision we, as a church family, will make about the organ. We just need to make the right decision.
How many times have we heard Matthew 7:7? “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you.” Do we really believe this? If the answer is yes, we need to ask God the best way to proceed.
Proverbs 3:5 also comes to mind. “Trust in the LORD with all your heart, and lean not on your own understanding.”
The situation involving our pipe organ is so complex that I believe our only way out is to lean on God and through fervent prayer genuinely enlist heavenly help. Even though there is now an organ committee that is working through all of the details of this project, we want the entire congregation to be part of the work. Everyone needs to be involved and engaged for us to achieve the best result possible. Please join me and the other members of the organ steering committee in praying for discernment and guidance as our congregation sorts through this challenge.
Although our words may be a little more sophisticated than those I used as a teenage girl, for the most part it’s the same prayer: “Uh oh, God. Please help us through this. We’re stuck.”
from Gail Lashley via FaceBook
When I was in fourth grade, Mr. Hendrickson was my teacher. He was also the organist at Gay St. We took a field trip to the church to see the massive pipe organ. We toured all of the rooms that the pipes occupy. Then Mr. Hendrickson showed us how the whole system works, and we were given the opportunity to play some keys/chords/combos.
from Darcy Wyant Coggins via FaceBook
Growing up at Gay St UMC in the 60's-70's, I loved when I could feel the deep bass notes played; I was sure the rumble must be what the voice of God would be like... that I could FEEL it in my bones! 🎵🎶♩
from Patty Purdy via FaceBook
It made my hair stand up.. At Attention and I Loved it
I was right there with Darcy Wyant Coggins and it was and is Amazing...My mother loved it
Rev. Karen Oehl
Mary Alice Gordon
If you have a memory your would like to share about Gay Street's pipe organ, please email Jan <> or post your memory on the church's Facebook page.