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First Baptist Congregational Church, Chicago, Illinois

Background

The original building where the First Baptist Congregational Church now stands was built in 1869, but it was destroyed in a fire and along with it, the William A. Johnson, two-manual, thirty-four register organ it housed. The church, then known as the Union Park Congregational Church, was rebuilt by 1871. This time, the amphitheater and gallery, able to hold 2,000 people, became home to an E. & G.G. Hook & Hastings three-manual, fifty-nine register organ which was dedicated a few days before the Great Chicago Fire. Fortunately, the church building survived the fire.

In 1910, another fire destroyed a nearby church. That congregation merged with Union Park Congregational. The consolidated congregation became known as the New First Congregational Church. A Kimball pipe organ was commissioned and donated as a gift of the Andrew R. Dole family. It became the largest totally enclosed organ in the country, if not the world.

The new, larger organ retained much of the Hook and Hastings casework, its entire facade and some of its interior pipework, revoiced. The Kimball organ was dedicated on Sunday, October 9, 1927 and was immediately used for community concerts as well as for worship services.

Scope of the Rebuild Project

Since 1993, the Bradford Organ Company of Evanston, Illinois, has been engaged in an extensive and ongoing rehabbing which has or will include:

  • Refurbishing the console with state-of-the-art electric action controls, including Peterson 99 Level Master Stop Processor, Piston Sequencer, Solid State Switching System, and MIDI Resource System;

  • Equipping the console with a digital sequencer and sound module which can record performances using both pipe organ and synthesized sounds;

  • Complete releathering of the organ's pneumatics;

  • Cleaning and restoring all of the organ's pipework;

  • Painting and cleaning the organ chamber which houses all the pipe work.

Model for African-American Congregations

In 1993, Arthur Dedrick Griffin, the church's senior organist, won first place in a competition sponsored by the National Association of Negro Musicians.

Griffin, who has been playing the organ at First Baptist Congregational Church since 1987, says, "The congregation is very aware of the intrinsic value of the organ and the need to restore and maintain it." He also notes there are a large number of "African-American congregations that have moved into formerly white churches and have inherited extremely valuable pipe organs." He hopes the example set by the First Baptist Congregational Church demonstrates how to preserve these valuable assets.

Other Highlights

One of the first fundraisers included an "Adopt-a-Pipe" campaign, complete with adoption certificates. Many contributors are on fixed incomes, but the congregation has been steadfastly devoted to preserving and enriching the organ.

With its Proteus Orchestra 2000 sound module, the organ's capabilities extend to 500 different sounds, including piano and electric guitar.

The improvements enable the organ to be at the forefront of contemporary gospel sounds and to provide the richness of traditional pipe organ worship music.

The church is sponsoring organ concerts for the larger community on an ongoing basis, including a residence program with the Chicago Civic Orchestra and a concert series featuring African-American organists from around the city, now in the planning stage.

Arthur Griffin may be contacted at the First Baptist Congregational Church at 1613 West Washington Blvd. Chicago, IL 60612. E-mail: mailto:agriffin@kiwi.dep.anl.gov; Tel: 773-533-6947 (after 3 pm Monday-Friday).

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