Organ Donation(s)

by vernsanders on May 3, 2011

This Is Not Your Grandparent’s Church, part 1

This month I’ve planned a series of posts that might be called “Tales from a Life.” Everything you read here has either happened to me, or occurred to me as a result of serving in some sort of music ministry position in a church since 1957…and yes, I am an official member of Geezers for Jesus…I even have a hat to prove it. I suppose this series of posts could also be called “Change Happens…Deal With It.”

Let’s get to the topic at hand, and get the obvious out of the way. For those of you expecting a medical “how to” kit, or a plea for checking a box on your driver’s license application: sorry.

Instead, I want to address one of the tricky parts of music ministry: what to do with those organs (or pianos…or [generally reaaaaaly cheap] keyboards…or sheet music…or accordians [just kidding]…or old computers…) that belonged to some member of a well-meaning family who want to give it/them to the church so it will be “put to good use.”

For a while there, the church I served during the 90′s seemed to attract a monthly gift offer of a 2 manual, short pedalboard, “spinet” organ that somebody’s parent, or grandparent, had thought so much of that it was one of the things that got moved into the retirement home.

<An aside: remember Thomas Organs? Before I could drive on my own, my parents carted one around almost every time I played a rock ‘n roll gig. Adding a “loose” approximation of a Jimmy Smith (wait for the inevitable and wonderful 3 minute held note improv at about 4:06 in the clip below) or Ray Charles (yes…I know that in the clip below he’s not playing the organ…but you get the idea) riff got me a lot of work in those days…but the organ was, as a friend used to say: a piece of junk an appliance.

Jimmy Smith: The Sermon

Ray Charles: Drown in My Own Tears


Where was I? Oh…right…what to do with these offers to donate “treasures” to the church. Sometimes these things are great, and will be an addition to a ministry.

But in the most often case that you don’t want can’t use the offered donation, I’ve found that the best thing is to make sure everybody on the staff knows that nothing gets accepted without somebody from the music staff actually taking a look at it. If the person taking a look at it is not the person in charge (the organist, not the music director, for instance), then the person who needs to make a polite refusal is not the person with whom the donating family has come into contact.

Even better is to have a standing policy that you don’t accept donations of this kind. That way, if something sounds interesting or useful enough to take a look at, you can start from the position of “Well…we never accept these kinds of things, but as a favor to you, I’ll take a look at it.” If it turns out to be something the church can use…make an exception. If not, you’ve had a chance to minister to a family and at the same time gently suggest that there might be a better place for grandma’s keyboard.

The alternative, I’ve found from experience, is the potential that you have a bunch of white elephant instruments hanging around the campus that the church can’t dispose of either because the family is so proud that it donated the thing.

What happens if you have an instrument now that you’d like to get rid of find a better home for? Establish a “sunset” law and review your inventory of everything. Put it in the youth ministry mission trip garage sale.  Discretely take a trip to the local refuse facility. But don’t tie up floor space with something that doesn’t serve your ministry. Trust me.

Please leave a comment and let me know what you think.

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