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‘More pressing needs’ should not halt replacing pipe organ

18 July 2014


THE fact that there might be more pressing needs than that of a new church organ was not a matter that should prevent the grant of a confirmatory faculty for the replacement of an existing pipe organ with a digital organ, the Commissary General of the diocese of Canterbury, Morag Ellis QC, stated when granting a faculty on the petition of the Rector and churchwardens of St Andrew's, Shepherdswell.

The faculty was confirmatory because the Commissary General had already authorised the installation of the new organ on an interim basis, with a warning that, if the petitioners proceeded on that basis, they did so at the risk of the confirmatory petition being withheld after full consideration.

The church was in urgent need of the new organ as the present pipe organ, which was installed in 1894, was no longer functioning effectively, and the cost of renovating it was prohibitive. The Archdeacon of Ashford, the Ven. Philip Down, asked for the petition to be fast-tracked because it was "entirely uncontroversial and fully supported by the DAC", and he wished to facilitate a speedy decision especially because of the imminent visit ofthe Archbishop of Canterbury.

The petition provoked an objection from a resident of the parish, Eddie Higham, who regularly attends services at the church and is also a member of the choir and the music group. He pointed out that St Andrew's supported churches abroad, helped a foodbank, and provided Street Pastors to Dover. "Surely these are more pressing," he argued.

He also said that the hymn books were "well worn and tatty and becoming beyond use". A portable keyboard could be bought for considerably less, he said.

The objection was forwarded to the Commissary General, who replied that the interim grant would not prejudice the consideration of the petition itself. Mr Higham replied that he found that that had "something of Kafka about it", and that it was "outrageous" that one of the factors taken into account was the Archbishop's visit. "Was Jesus accompanied by Wurlitzers and Hammond organs?" he asked.

In one sense, Mr Higham was right, the Commissary General said: that there were "more pressing" needs in the world than that for a new organ, but there was a "certain profligacy inherent in worship, as in many other expressions of love and devotion".

She referred to the incident in the Gospels where Jesus, faced with an objection on the grounds of wastefulness, to a woman's pouring expensive perfume over his feet, defended the action as a "beautiful thing", and said that they would always have the poor with them (Mark 14.7).

By saying this, the Commissary General said, Jesus should not be taken as being indifferent to the needs of the poor, but rather that he approved an act of devotion for its own sake, as well as pointing out that there would continue to be opportunities to relieve poverty.

That principle could be applied to the problem before her, the Commissary General said. There was no evidence that the church's valuable work with the foodbank or the provision of Street Pastors would be hampered by the purchase of the organ. Worship and social action could and should co-exist, she said, as the gospel incident showed. Nor could worn hymn books be regarded as a reason for not replacing the organ.

Although Archbishop Welby did not expect his visit to be "accompanied by Wurlitzers and Hammond organs", the timing of the parish's longstanding aspiration was clearly given focus by his visit.

The decision to grant the petition was influenced by the assurance that the proposal was uncontroversial, and by the importance of having the new organ in place for the Archbishop's visit, because of the oppor-tunities occasioned by that visit for publicising the church as a place of local mission, vitality, and excellence.

The need for the new organ had been established, the Commissary General said, and the petition proposed a fitting solution.

A condition was imposed about the disposal of the old pipe organ. The parish had to explore whether it had any disposal value. It was to use its best endeavours to dispose of the organ for value, for three months from the date of the faculty, before any work to remove it was commenced. After that period, the parish would be at liberty to dispose of it for no price, preferably to some person or body who would be able to make use of it in whole or in part.

If there was any income raised by its sale, the Commissary General said that the parish might consider putting it towards new hymn books for the choir. She imposed no condition to that effect, however.

The new instrument, which has now been purchased, is an electric organ, a Viscount Physis Envoy 23S.

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