St. James Episcopal Church in Lancaster city will retire a part of its history Sunday morning when the James Hale Steinman Memorial Organ will be played one last time at the 8:30 a.m. and 10:30 a.m. traditional worship services.

The four-manual organ, which has undergone two major rebuilds, will be replaced later this year by a digital organ.

In a letter to the Steinman family, the Rev. David Peck, St. James rector,  explained that the organ’s “natural life cycle and technology is now at an end and it is too costly an organ to maintain or risk rebuilding.”

The Steinman family’s ties to St. James extend back generations, said Peggy Steinman, the daughter of James Hale Steinman, a publisher of Lancaster Newspapers, now LNP Media Group. James Hale Steinman was a member of the church.

The organ console was donated in 1948 in memory of Peggy Steinman, matriarch of the family, by her children, Elizabeth Duncan Steinman, John Frederick Steinman and James Hale Steinman.

Following James Hale Steinman’s death in 1962, the family made a bequest to dedicate the organ as the  James Hale Steinman Memorial Organ.

David Peck 8.jpg

St. James Episcopal Church contains several rooms that house the ranks of pipes.

In 1968, the organ was rebuilt with a gift from Steinman’s wife, Louise Tinsley Steinman, and daughters Louise Steinman Ansberry, Caroline Steinman Nunan and Peggy Steinman. The rebuild included new organ pipes that occupy three rooms in the church.

In 1994, a gift of $50,000 was given to the church by the James Hale Steinman Foundation. That gift,  Peck wrote, “extended its life another 20 years, but with each decade the console, mechanical pipes and analogue technology has simply become harder to maintain.”

‘Served with distinction’

William Wright, St. James’ director of music, said the organ, which was built in 1948 by the Gundling Organ Co. of Lancaster,  was a major upgrade for the church.

“It’s stunning sound and expressive range have served as a vehicle for the Holy Spirit over these many years, stirring the hearts and souls of the congregation members and bringing them closer to God as part of the worship experience,” he wrote in an email.

Wright said the organ had three primary purposes — to support congregational singing, accompany the choir and serve as “a vehicle for the performance of great solo organ literature, both in services and in recitals.”

“Some organs are excellent for only one or two of these purposes,” he explained. “Our Gundling organ has served with distinction in all three areas, and we are grateful for its long service to the church and to the community at large.”

Organist Michael Good will play the organ during Sunday’s services. The final piece will be the Choral Improvisation on Sigfrid Karg-Elert’s “Now Thank We All Our God.” The same hymn was played at the organ’s dedication in 1948 by the highly regarded St. James organist Frank McConnell.

Changing technology

The Allen Organ Co., of Macungie, Lehigh County, has been commissioned to build a new digital organ for the church, which will celebrate its 275th anniversary in October.

The Allen Organ Co. has built organs for churches and theaters around the world, including the three-manual digital organ at St. Peter’s Basilica in the Vatican that debuted during Pope Francis’ Christmas Eve Mass in 2017.

The digital organ not only will be able to produce the sounds of the pipe organ, but it will be able to replicate sounds of instruments from earlier periods in history.

Frank McConnell

Organist Frank McConnell plays the organ in 1947 prior to its dedication in 1948.

That includes the oud — the ancient precursor to the lute — which, Peck noted, is played during Sunday  5 p.m.  contemplative prayer services.

 St. James Episcopal is well-known for blending contemporary and traditional music at services.

“We’ll be able to blend those incredible sounds of the Eastern Orthodox Church, the Middle East and India and Africa, really sampling world music in all of its glory.”

Modern upgrades

The new organ is but one piece of the modern technology at the church. Peck said the lighting and sound systems have been upgraded to  enhance the worship experience and to enable the church to livestream services to those at home and around the world. When Hurricane Florence forced the evacuation of parts of Charleston, South Carolina, in September of last year, the bishop recommended that  members wishing to be part of a church service go to St. James’ livestream.

“We had this inexplicable bump  in viewing, and it was people from across the Carolinas tuning in,” Peck said

The new organ also will require less space and the rooms containing the pipes will be converted into additional spaces for church use.