In 2011, a fire just before Thanksgiving nearly destroyed Saugatuck Congregational Church.
A spectacular effort by firefighters — and firewalls — prevented complete destruction of the historic building. But the sanctuary was ruined.
The music department was devastated too. They lost 5 pianos, choir robes, a 100-year-old music library with thousands of sheets of music, and a pipe organ.
It took years for the church to rebuild. The organ was insured; monies helped rebuild the sanctuary.
Meanwhile, a committee sought designs and quotes from top-notch organ builders around the world. The Klais Orgelbau was chosen for its warmth of tone, design of the case, and the family feel of its company.
Installation began this summer. Finally — nearly 8 years after the fire — the new organ is ready.
On Sunday, October 13 (2 p.m.), Saugatuck Church celebrates with a special concert.
The performers were all chosen for the compassion they showed after the fire.
James Boratko and his church in West Hartford reached out immediately. They loaned hymnals, anthems and choir robes. “Having parishioners singing from hymnals together” — even at other sites — “helped mold us as a community,” says Saugatuck’s director of music Heather Hamilton.
Ed Thompson at the Unitarian Church also called quickly, offering music, support, and a place to rehearse every week for 2 years. “We felt welcome, and loved being there as a group,” says Hamilton. (She took her first organ lessons from Thompson, and considers him a mentor.)
Craig Scott Symons gave Hamilton a keyboard. That helped her work remotely, and with the choir when they worshiped in different places.
Christ & Holy Trinity Episcopal Church — a few yards across Myrtle Avenue from Saugatuck Church — offered the use of Branson Hall for the townwide Thanksgiving feast, just a few days after the blaze. Congregants worshiped in Christ & Holy Trinity’s Seabury Center many Sundays and Christmas Eves, while their own building was rebuilt. Temple Israel opened its arms to the congregation, providing worship space for over 2 years.
Saugatuck Church invites everyone to the October 13 concert. After all, Hamilton notes, contributions for the new organ came from throughout Westport and beyond — not just parishioners.
In that spirit, the church is eager to share its organ with others. Several concerts are already planned. And the American Guild of Organists looks forward to sharing their music and master classes on it.
(The October 13 concert starts at 2 p.m., and is free. A reception follows at 3 p.m. The event is co-sponsored by the Westport Library.)