A spider crane lifts the 770-pound electic organ into its new home. Photo courtesy St. John the Baptist Church

Teamwork helps organ find new home in Peterborough parish

  • November 18, 2020

A connection forged between members of the Royal Canadian College of Organists has given an organ that was no longer in use new life inside St. John the Baptist Church in Peterborough, Ont. 

John Vermeulen, the organist at Maranatha Christian Reformed Church in Bowmanville, Ont., learned in January that Calvary Baptist Church in nearby Oshawa was looking to donate its 770-pound Rodgers Windsor 840 electric organ to a new home. Steve Cottrell, the ministry team director and worship pastor for Calvary Baptist, told Vermeulen the plan was to confer the grand instrument to a college or university.

Ultimately, no post-secondary institution expressed an interest in the organ, so Vermeulen offered to find a home, hoping for it to be used to worship the Lord.

A conversation with Randy Mills, a friend and fellow member of the Royal Canadian College of Organists, provided Vermeulen with a solution.

“I was talking to Randy about the organ and he told me that he was playing in a church that really could use one,” said Vermeulen. “I then told Steve, and later he called me when I was driving a gravel truck to inform me that we could go ahead and find a way to get the organ from Oshawa to St. John the Baptist Church in Peterborough.”

Mills, organist at St. John’s as well as Trinity College School and St. Mark’s Anglican Church in Port Hope, Ont., was thrilled for his parish to receive an organ of this ilk.

“John told me that the quality of the organ would be worth all the planning and work,” said Mills. “The features of this organ are wonderful as it has three keyboards and 50 stops so you can create many different sounds.”

Just as the transfer was primed to occur, COVID-19 reared its head to slam the brakes on the process. An eventual easing of restrictions enabled the handover to take place on Nov. 7.

Vermeulen’s employer, Oshawa Sand & Gravel Supply, lent a major assist by providing a truck for the move. Others helped with the logistics as well — Durham Fuels offered a truck for other gear, and Oshawa Sand & Gravel Supply provided two assistants who secured free usage of a spider crane from Lloyd Vandergaast of Lobo Enterprises Ltd., a company specializing in commercial glass and building envelope solutions.

Crane operator John Burma executed the tricky task of extricating the Rodgers Windsor 840 from the inside of Calvary Baptist Church the night before the move. The organ and eight speakers were placed inside the trucks for the move on Saturday.

“It’s just incredible how John was able to do all that work and arrange all those volunteers,” marvels Mills. “Hoisting an organ on a crane for transport from Oshawa to Peterborough would be $10,000 minimum.”

Burma raised the organ to its new home in St. John’s balcony and onto a specialized platform designed by parishioner Erman Mazzarollo. Don and Jim Anderson of the local Phoenix Organs then made short work of installing the organ and the accompanying speakers. Impressed by the strong acoustic quality of St. John the Baptist Church, the Andersons faced all the speakers towards the ceiling so that the opulent sound of the organ would spread throughout the church.

Pastor Fr. Salvador Curutchet and three sisters of the Servants of the Lord and the Virgin of Matara (SSVM) who serve the parish were on hand for support throughout the entire day. The organ made its debut late that very same afternoon.

“I was overjoyed when I first played that organ,” said Mills. “It is better sounding than I possibly imagined.”

Vermeulen attended his first Catholic Mass in some time just to hear the organ in its new home.

“Randy blows me away. He is such a gifted organist,” he said. “The spirit was there in the church that day. I remember Fr. Salvador’s great sermon and that Randy played ‘Make Me a Channel of Your Peace’ so beautifully during the Lord’s Supper.”

Mills was delighted that St. John the Baptist Parish and Calvary Baptist Church established an ecumenical bond. He says there is potential for more collaborative activities because “Pope Francis has encouraged ecumenism over the past few years.”

The coda of this story will be a blessing and dedication recital featuring the organ in the weeks ahead.

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