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 by 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 pipe work, revoiced. The Kimball organ was dedicated on Sunday, October 9, 1927 and was immediately used for community concerts as well as for worship services.
Model for African-American Congregations
In 1993, Arthur Dedrick Griffin Jr., 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 Americans 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.
Arthur Griffin is considered one of America's versatile musicians and is among the fading generation of University Trained church musicians, specializing in pipe organ music for traditional worship. Arthur is a fourth generation musician who began studying music at the age of six, with his grandmother, the late Mrs. Maudeline Kelly.
Arthur is currently serving as Senior Organist at the First Baptist Congregational Church of Chicago and at St. Malachy Catholic-Church as Assistant Cantor and Organist.
One of the first fundraisers include 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 E-mu Proteus Orchestra 2000 sound module, the organ's capabilities extend to 500 different sounds, including piano and electric guitar.
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.
Arthur D. Griffin, Jr. may be contacted at the First Baptist Congregational Church at
September 26, 2012 marks the completion of a great investment, our congregation has made in preserving this world class instrument, in our newly refurbished Sanctuary.
Unlike some other works of art, a pipe organ needs tender care and preservation. It is comprised of not only stately metal pipes, like those now beautifully restored in the Organ Case, but it also consists of sensitive leathers, woods and multiple moving parts. When activated, it is a virtually living, breathing ORGANism.
To the average member, one might think that the sounds come from the now beautifully restored organ façade, but in fact the pipes you see were originally part of the Hook & Hasting 1871 organ.
In 1929 the entire organ case was disconnected and moved back 3 ft., four new chambers were built to house the Great Kimball Organ. These magnificent sounds you hear each Sunday are produced from the 5,466 pipes housed in 6 concrete chambers, 4 in the front and 2 in the rear balcony.
Since the late 1980s, our organ technician Walter Bradford, and the Bradford Organ Company have labored to revitalize and restore this world-class instrument. Since the start of the renovations & repairs, Jason Michalec, President at J.D. Michalec Pipe Organs Inc., has joined the team of organ technicians to clean and repair many of the working parts.
In 1993, the church allocated funds to completely update the console (Four Keyboards & Pedal Board), with Solid State & MIDI enhancements, but we have never had the funds to remove & clean pipes, and re-store the organ façade. The church has continued to budget funds for what is colloquially known as "preventative maintenance" simply doing enough so that we could use the organ during morning worship.
The 2011 Winter Storm Damage, allowed us to take on an ambitious project. We removed & cleaned all 5,466 pipes, completely rebuilt the two organ chambers in the rear balcony, and restored the organ façade to its former glory. Our insurance claim funded most of the restoration, with the support of the chairman of the Trustee Board Bro. Thomas Marks, and Pastor Daniels, we were able to secure $200,000.00 for this project.
While the pipes of the façade were taken to be cleaned, we discovered a much earlier stencil pattern etched on each of the façade pipes, looking at previous historical records we believe this pattern to be the original 1871 design. Rebecca Hamlin, and her three member team were commissioned to replicate the stencils and painstakingly re-painted, the design on all 47 pipes ranging in length from 22ft down to 8 ft. A team of 10 men (including 4 of our Y-Focus Men) on Tuesday, August 21st carried pipes weighing 200lbs to 10lbs from the gymnasium, outside the church and back on the northeast stairwell to their final resting place.
During the Organ Re-Dedication Voluntary “Great is Thy Faithfulness”, was played in which the two back organs were heard, for the first time in over 50 years. Thanks to the Grace of God , Rebecca Hamlin, Walter Bradford and Jason Michalec Organ Technicians, and the generous support of our congregation, a proper restoration of the Great Kimball Organ Opus 6949, is no longer a "pipe dream" but a reality!
GREAT KIMBALL ORGAN PIPES RETURN TO THE SANCTUARY
By Arthur D. Griffin Jr.
"IT IS THE KING OF INSTRUMENTS" Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
Praise Ye the Lord… Praise him with Stringed Instruments & Organs”. The members of FBCC have been the fortunate beneficiaries of a rich heritage of sacred music. 84 years ago Dr. William Lester, organist and architect of the Great Kimball Organ, designed the largest totally enclosed pipe organ in the United States.