Hesston’s new organ serves college and churchBy Phil Richard Hesston College
HESSTON, Kan. — For 50 years, Hesston College and Hesston Mennonite Church — both founded in 1909 — opposed musical instruments for congregational worship.
When a pipe organ was installed in 1965 in the church’s old sanctuary, “it was forward thinking in the Mennonite Church to have an organ,” said Ken Rodgers, a college faculty member who teaches organ.
Now the church has a new sanctuary, completed in 2007 and shared with the college, and the sanctuary has a new organ, dedicated March 2.
“This is the kind of instrument that is custom-made for this space [and] that should literally last us as long as the building and space is used,” Rodgers said at the dedication service. “It’s the kind of thing that really is a century [or] multi-century investment.”
Rodgers, who graduated from Hesston College in 1985, said the $265,000 organ fulfilled more than 20 years of dreaming and planning.
“When I was a student at Hesston College, I had the dream that there would be a different instrument perhaps at some point on the college campus,” he said. “That was also the dream of some administrators and people in the music department at that time. So it took a long time, but it’s a nice fulfillment.”
On the eve of the dedication, college historian John E. Sharp spoke to a group of college supporters on the evolution of Mennonite attitudes toward the organ.
Sharp, who is working on the college’s centennial history book, said opposition to instrumental music in worship was as much a factor in the founding of the Anabaptist movement as were believers baptism, voluntary membership, rejection of violence and separation of church and state.
In Zurich, Switzerland, where Anabaptism was born in 1525, reformer Ulrich Zwingli led the city in its rejection of all things Catholic — ceremonies, rituals, liturgy, images and instrumental music.
Though he was a musician of extraordinary talent, Zwingli said the New Testament taught none of those “popish mockeries.”
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