When the longtime organist at St. John’s Episcopal Church in Havre de Grace announced her retirement last fall, the leaders of the small 200-year-old congregation faced a bigger challenge than they knew.
Music — particularly the music of the organ — is central to the life of the church. Members say the instrument’s rich sounds complement their liturgy, inspire congregational singing and even seem to invite the Holy Spirit into their presence.
But a six-month search has turned up just one potential applicant. Church leaders are trying every new strategy they can think of to get things moving.
“We’re praying and trying to stay optimistic, but this we had no idea how challenging this would be,” says parishioner Casi Tomarchio, a member of the search committee. “There aren’t enough organists out there.”
At a time when fewer Americans describe themselves as affiliated with any religious denomination, the ranks of those who play the instrument long considered a mainstay of Christian worship — the organ, and most specifically, the pipe organ — are thinning.
The shortage has hit less hard in major metropolitan areas, where historic cathedrals and churches with bigger budgets can invest the funds it takes to buy and maintain a serviceable organ and offer a musician full-time work.
But smaller congregations — including those in rural and suburban America — are feeling the pinch.
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