The Case for a New Pipe Organ

Worship in the Episcopal Tradition


These are a few of the words people use to describe worship in the Episcopal Church. Our patterns for worship go back hundreds of years and help us feel connected to the worship that Christians offered up to God in the earliest days of the church.

Our worship is an offering to the God who expects our best efforts and delights in our praises. At its best, worship reminds us that we are beloved children of the God who wants to be at the center of our lives.

Music is a vital aspect of the worship we offer up to God. As one expert wrote,

From the early days of the Church, music has been integral to the worship of God. Music gives solemnity, beauty, joy, and enthusiasm to the worship of the community. It imparts a sense of unity and sets an appropriate tone for a particular celebration… It nourishes and strengthens faith and assists worshipers in expressing and sharing their faith… It expresses and communicates feelings and meanings which cannot be put into words.”

Marion J. Hatchett, A Guide to the Practice of Church Music, 1989, p. 15

Since it was built in 1954, the vast space of St. Luke’s Church has drawn people in, inviting them to contemplate the vastness of God’s love. The church today is home to various musical styles. Our contemporary musicians offer music that inspires people in a casual and contemporary setting. And at the heart of our more traditional services is music undergirded by the pipe organ.

The King of Instruments

The pipe organ, often called the “King of Instruments” because of its wide expressive range, has long been “the most desirable and satisfying instrument for the leading of congregational singing, for the accompaniment of choir or cantor, and for the performance of a great portion of the instrumental music written for the Church” (Hatchett, p. 33).

The pipe organ is uniquely positioned to help create that transcendent experience that people identify with worship in the Episcopal tradition: worship that lifts up the soul, provides a connection to earlier generations of Christians, and points to Jesus Christ as our Lord and the Savior of the world.
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Pipe Organs at St. Luke’s Church

The First Pipe Organ. In 1967, St. Luke’s installed its first pipe organ at a cost of $97,000. The organ was built by Ed Swearingen, a legendary figure whose fascination with pipe organs was matched by his expertise in aircraft design.

The Visser-Rowland Pipe Organ. In 1982, a new organ was installed, designed by the Visser-Rowland Pipe Organ Company of Houston. That pipe organ served St. Luke’s well for many years, although various factors led to the decision several years ago to engage a company to restore it and address various deficiencies. That substandard work unfortunately was a failure, leaving the organ unplayable and virtually beyond repair.

After the failed pipe organ restoration, St. Luke’s began using a small analog organ, and then moved to a digital organ lent to us by local organist Mary Ann Winden. That organ returned to Mary Ann’s home this summer, leaving St. Luke’s without an organ of any kind, forcing us for a time to rely on our grand piano to lead our hymns and choral anthems.


Moving Forward

St. Luke’s needs an instrument of some sort to serve as the backbone of the worship life of the church. Over the past year, the Rector and the Director of Music have considered a variety of options:

  • A digital organ. Digital organs are becoming more common these days and have achieved great advances in recent years. But any digital organ will face the likely need for upgrades (both software and hardware components) within a few years, and no digitized music can engage the room like the sound produced by a pipe organ. Digital organs are less expensive than pipe organs, but a digital organ for a space the size of ours would likely require a significant financial investment.
  • Reconstruction of the Visser-Rowland pipe organ. Although the damage to the existing pipe organ is incredibly extensive, there are organ restoration experts who have offered to restore it. The work is incredibly cost-prohibitive, however, and would still leave us with an instrument with inherent limitations.
  • A new pipe organ. The solution that makes the most sense is a new pipe organ, designed specifically to make effective use of our space and support the kind of music that is important to us.

A new pipe organ would be designed to support congregational singing and to accompany the choir as they offer selections from the great repertory of traditional church music from both historical and modern composers.

A new pipe organ would also raise the profile of St. Luke’s in the community. We can anticipate liturgies and recitals that would draw people to St. Luke’s from all over – people hungry for sacred music offered in a beautiful space, pointing to the glory of God.

A new pipe organ is the best way forward, the musical solution that best positions us to achieve the church’s mission: to illuminate San Antonio with the Light of Christ, especially through inspiring worship and music in the Episcopal tradition.



The Reuter Organ Company

After receiving proposals from various organ builders, we have concluded that the proposal offered by the Reuter Organ Company makes the best sense for us at St. Luke’s.

The Reuter Organ Company is based in Lawrence, Kansas. Begun in 1917, Reuter is now a multi-million-dollar international firm with organs in the United States, Canada, Taiwan, and Korea. With over 2,240 new organs installed in churches, synagogues, concert halls, schools, and homes around the globe, the Reuter vision remains constant — to craft fine pipe organs with a dedication to artistry and integrity.

In his visits to St. Luke’s, Reuter President Albert “JR” Neutel, Jr. impressed us with his desire to listen and understand the needs of the music program of St. Luke’s Church, to create a major recital instrument, and to fulfill our desire for an organ that will support congregational singing rather than overpower worshipers.
The instrument that Reuter proposes for us is based on the French Romantic style. It will be an instrument of warmth and blazing color that will encourage congregational singing and give authenticity to the major repertoire of organ literature.
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The Reuter organ will be a 45-rank instrument, combining 29 new ranks with 16 ranks from the Visser-Rowland organ. Making use of other components from the existing organ, the new instrument will include new casework, a new three-manual terraced console, and new pitman chests. It will be designed to make the best use of the acoustical properties of the church’s worship space.

Reuter has made available a digital organ for our use until the installation of the new pipe organ.

Funding the Proposed Organ

Reuter’s proposal is $1,021,000. This proposal covers the construction and installation of the new pipe organ and console.

St. Luke’s continues to service debt of $225,000, costs associated with the failed work on the Visser-Rowland pipe organ. We are currently making quarterly payments on that loan to Jefferson Bank.

We are seeking to raise $1,250,000 for our pipe organ project! This amount covers the cost of the Reuter proposal and it makes funds available for modifications to the gallery and for contingencies that may come up. Once the organ is installed, the funds we still have can be used to pay down the bank note, freeing us of burdensome debt.