Church gets organ transplant

February 22, 2008
By

DAVID TABER

JP CENTER—The tragedy of the 2005 fire that destroyed First Baptist church was compounded by the loss of the church’s rare 1859 E. & G.G. Hook organ.

Those sounds are lost to the sands of time, but when the church rebuilds it will not be without a Hook organ, First Baptist Pastor Ashlee Wiest-Laird recently told the Gazette.

At the time of the fire, former church musical director Leonardo Ciampa told the Gazette the instrument was “possibly the most beautiful [sounding] organ in Boston, and one of the most beautiful [sounding] organs in the country.”

That organ, Ciampa said, had remained virtually unaltered through its life. “Up until the fire [it] sounded pretty much as it did when James Buchanan was president and the Civil War hadn’t started yet!” he said.

Through an improbable set of events, the church has acquired an 1872 organ made by the same manufacturer, by that point known as Hook & Hastings, she said.

Shortly after the 2005 fire, Wiest-Laird said, a 6-year-old member of the church told his mother he had dreamed that First Baptist had two new organs.

It was explained to the youth that there was no money to purchase a new organ, she said. But a week later First Baptist got a call from a New York-based organ clearinghouse making the church an offer it could not refuse.

Another church, Mount Mariah Baptist Church in Harlem, was looking to unload its Hook & Hastings organ. The market value was around $40,000, but the New York church agreed to sell it to the JP congregation for $5,000, Wiest-Laird said.

The clearinghouse dismantled the organ and made plans to send it down. But, after the fire, First Baptist was, as it is now, operating out of a trailer on its church’s front lawn. “We didn’t have anywhere to put it,” Wiest-Laird said.

“On Monday morning of the week it was to be shipped we got a call from the Jamaica Plain Neighborhood Development Corporation,” she said. The community development corporation had recently acquired the Blessed Sacrament Church complex at 365 Centre St.

“They said, “We would like to let you put it in the Blessed Sacrament sanctuary for free,’” Wiest-Laird said.

And there First Baptist’s 1872 Hooks & Hastings organ sits to this day.

As the Gazette reported in 2005, Elias Hook, whose first initial was included in the organ manufacturer’s original name, lived on Sumner Hill, where his house still stands.

The organ will cost about $500,000 to restore, Wiest-Laird said. Before the congregation even starts thinking about it, First Baptist plans to begin rebuilding its church this spring, and still needs to raise about $2 million to complete phase one of that project.

Wiest-Laird is sanguine, however, about the church’s prospects for getting the job done.

When the time comes it will start a “special campaign to raise money for the organ itself.” There are different groups of donors interested in restoring the organ and rebuilding the church, she said.