ARTS IN WORSHIP
Bethesda's Pipe Organ
Bethesda had built a new church building near downtown Moorhead in 1905, just in time to celebrate its 25th anniversary. In 1917, when Swedish was still the language of its worship services, the Young People’s Society purchased a new pipe organ for Bethesda with about 10 ranks of pipes, built by the Hillgreen-Lane Organ Builders of Alliance, Ohio. They were a company busy making organs for churches and theaters and likely bought their organ pipes from the A. R. Schopps, which built pipes for the organ builders who had located around them, including Holtkamp, Schantz, Page and others.
In the 1950s, Gottfred Nelson of Dalton, Minnesota did some re-arranging of the organ and its pipes.
In March of 1966, tragedy struck. A terrible winter storm dumped snow down the belfry and it landed on top of the Swell box which contained all the pipe work for the top manual. The snow melted and severely damaged the organ, rendering it unplayable.
The Johnson Organ Company of Moorhead signed a contract to not only rebuild the organ but enlarge it. The new pipes were made by Durst Organ Supply of Erie, Pennsylvania. This was the first organ in Moorhead to have solid state switching. The major rebuild was done in 1967 when the organ was 50 years old. The photo below shows the organ just as Lance Johnson finished his rebuild, with 18 ranks.
Just in front of the organ in the photo, you can see a white painted rod, one of several that had been installed to keep the church’s brick walls from bulging outward. Louise Lund remembers one of her sons sitting with her in the balcony and describing how he would love to get on that rod and swing on it from one wall to the next. That instability of the brick walls was one of the reasons Bethesda decided they needed a new church building.
And so, when the church was sold, the pipe organ took a trip south. The organ was dismantled, stored and then installed in the new church in South Moorhead. Over the years, a few new items were added such as a rank of wooden flutes called the “copula.” The new wooden pipes were built by Gerald Schjellberg, a talented woodworker from Moorhead.
We don’t have a complete list of the organists. Mrs. O.G. Berg was the pastor’s wife who played for 25 years, but we don’t even know her first name. Margery Possehl played the organ for many years and also directed the choirs and built up the size and quality of Bethesda’s music program.
Bethesda, now 137 years old, continues to be grateful for their musical heritage, this fine instrument and those who have played it.
Mrs. O.G. Berg 1920-1945
Margery Possehl 1962-1996
Bill Tweten 1997-1998
Dorothy Koopman 2000-2004
Dan Brueggeman, Ryan Moorse, Sue Knorr, Peter Rogahn took
turns from 2004-2006
Sally Harmon 2006-2010
Thomas Hanson 2010-current