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The Magazine of The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America

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Pipe organ logs frequent flier miles

After decades of increasing dysfunction, the pipe organ at Christmas Lutheran Church in Bethlehem resounded throughout the sanctuary in December.

But before it was reinstalled for Christmas Eve 2000, the organ traveled about 20,000 miles (it was restored in Morristown, Minn.), via truck, ocean freighter and train. It was inspected by customs agents, taxed heavily at an Israeli port and hauled up and down the church's tight staircase.

If that weren't enough, shortly before its inaugural performance at Christmas Lutheran, the organ's American-made transformer went into meltdown due to its incompatibility with the church's European-style system. Thinking quickly, organ restorer Roland Rutz asked Pastor Mitri Raheb for his car battery so it could be hooked up to the instrument for the necessary low-voltage current. Since the organ's lights hadn't been reinstalled yet, Roland Rutz, Karl Rutz and John Schell took turns holding flashlights and candles so guest organist Karen Ullestad of Ames, Iowa, could read the music during the evening service.

Bethlehem's sister congregation — Christ the Redeemer Lutheran in Minneapolis — spearheaded the fund-raising for the restoration project. "It's been a satisfying endeavor," said project chair Charles Lutz. "To date we've received gifts from 535 donors, 65 of which are congregations and other institutions."

This wasn't the organ's first travel adventure. The 107-year-old instrument--one of the oldest in the Holy Land--was shipped in 1893 from the Dinse Organ Company in Berlin to Haifa, Israel, then carried by camel-drawn wagons to Bethlehem.


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