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The public is invited to attend the celebration of the 115th anniversary of the Bemidji United Methodist Church and the rededication of the organ Saturday. Monte Draper | Bemidji Pioneer

Bemidji United Methodist Church to celebrate 115th anniversary with organ rededication

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BEMIDJI — The year was 1898, and the month was May in the village of Bemidji when the Presiding Elder Rev. Dr. Robert Forbes preached the first sermon to a group of people wishing to form a Methodist Episcopal Church.

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Forbes, whose territory covered all of northern Minnesota, accepted the hospitality of the local Presbyterian Church on May 28, but for the rest of the summer, the group met on the shore of Lake Bemidji. The Rev. George Watson was installed as the first resident pastor in the fall of 1899

The fledgling congregation was allowed to meet at the courthouse starting in the fall of 1898 and the Ladies Aid Society purchased a pump reed organ, at an enormous sum of $35, for Methodists were known to be joyful singers.

The move to the Modern Woodmen of America Hall, which stood on the northwest corner of Minnesota Avenue and Third Street in downtown Bemidji, was completed in 1899. But all the while the congregation was working toward a permanent home of their own.

In a short three years, the first church building was erected at Ninth Street and Beltrami Avenue. It was described in the Bemidji Pioneer as a "commodious building with oak pews and pulpit furnishings, seating 200 in the auditorium and 75 or 80 in the lecture room."

But the congregation was to suffer a terrible loss when a fierce electric storm destroyed the frame structure on July 19, 1909. They moved to temporary quarters at the local Masonic Temple while they began to re-build the sanctuary.

In the fall of 1910, the basement walls of the new edifice were finished and a rough floor was laid. Two more years passed before the brick building, which still stands at the south end of the present church, was finished.

A few pipe or electronic organs were installed and replaced in the last hundred years and it is notable that organ chimes, placed as a memorial to the 14 men from the congregation who died during WWII, are still played today.

In 1984, a used 1939 Wicks pipe organ was purchased and its two Sitka spruce pipe chambers were placed on either side of the center balcony window. It is this organ that is being rededicated in recognition of the 115th anniversary of the Bemidji United Methodist Church.

Once again, it was the Bemidji Methodist Women that spearheaded the effort and donated two-thirds of the cost toward the project to refurbish the organ through fundraising efforts.

So it will be with grateful hearts when the congregation joins the chancel choir in singing its anthem, "All Creatures of Our God and King," at 1 p.m. Saturday in the sanctuary of the BUMC. The public is invited to attend the celebration of the 115 anniversary and the rededication of the organ "to God’s service."

Noted choral director and musician Philip Brunelle will be the guest organist for the event. Brunelle has been the organist and choirmaster at Plymouth Church for 40 years, one of three men who have served that parish as organist since 1900. Brunelle is perhaps best known for his role as founder and artistic director of VocalEssence a chorus and orchestra which performs a yearly concert series. Brunelle will perform a program of organ music of familiar church music including some pieces heard during Advent and Christmas in addition to favorites within the Wesleyan tradition: "The Church’s One Foundation."

Brunelle will be joined by soloist Mark Christensen who will sing "Deep River" as arranged by Moses Hogan. The Bemidji Community Chorale, under the direction of Patricia Mason, will sing Rutter’s "A Gaelic Blessing" in a salute to the congregation before the concluding piece, "Toccata in F Major" by Charles-Marie Widor as performed by Brunelle.

"This church has a long history of celebrating God through music," said the Rev. Gay Albers. "There is a real love and passion for music. We celebrate how God moves in the music and how we are moved by those worship sounds."

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