Jennifer Weier plays the new digital organ in the Ocracoke United Methodist Church

By Text and photos by Peter Vankevich

The Ocracoke United Methodist Church celebrated its final renovations with a concert on a new state-of-the-art, digital organ.

The organ replaced the Allen organ destroyed when Hurricane Dorian struck three years earlier on Sept. 6, 2019.

The church, built in 1942, went through the wringer when the powerful storm surge tossed the pews around and caused such extensive damage that much of the interior had to be rebuilt.

That renovation took more than two years before it reopened in late November 2021. An electronic keyboard from the church rec hall was used for services until the new organ arrived.

One could say that the church has risen from the disaster.

Ocracoke United Methodist Choir. From left: front, Catherine Jackson, Jennifer Rich, back: Roger Garrish, Will Adams

An aspect of the rebuild raised it nine feet from the ground, which should minimize damage from another catastrophic hurricane.

“The new organ is highly significant since it represents the crowning touch to the church being fully restored,” said Pastor Logan Jackson,

The new organ was made possible from a generous donation by Keith and Isabelle McDermott in memory of his parents, Charles and Jean McDermott.

“The McDermotts recognize that music ministry is what transforms the soul, is what can lift people closer to God in ways that you can’t through liturgy, which is why it is important to have music as part of our worship services,” said Desirée Christa Ricker, worship and choir director, noting that the McDermotts approached the church to help after Dorian.

The concert took place exactly three years after the hurricane struck.

The 32-note, pedal-board Rodgers 233 Inspire Series digital organ has a sound that is virtually indistinguishable from a pipe organ.

It was manufactured at the Rodgers Instruments headquarters in Hillsboro, Oregon. Founded in 1957, Rodgers has been a pioneer in designing digital organs.

Being digital, it works well in an environment with high humidity like Ocracoke.

Ricker said she had a learning curve about organs.

She got the most help from Al Murrell of Lake Gaston, who is vice president of R. A. Daffer Church Organs of Jessup, Maryland, and affiliated with Global Organ Group.  

Desirée Christa Ricker

“Al was amazing,” Ricker said. “In addition to his expert advice on the organ that would match our church’s needs, he helped find Jennifer to perform the concert, accompanied the organ to Ocracoke and even helped lift it into the church.”

“I’ve loved organs since I was a child and have been in the business for nearly 50 years,” Murrell said during the preconcert potluck in the Rec Hall.

“One of the reasons for selecting this organ is that you can pull the pedals into the grate,” Ricker said. “So, if you’re not comfortable playing pedals with your feet, you can push a stop and it will pull those lower sounds into your keys.  We are a small community that doesn’t always have an organ player, so this is a way that we could let piano players feel more comfortable playing on the organ.”

Featured performer Weier is director of music at St. Paul United Methodist Church in Goldsboro.

In addition to her Bachelor of Music degree from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, she studied music therapy at Loyola University in New Orleans and obtained a master’s degree in Conflict, Displacement and Human Security from the University of East London. She has worked with Amnesty International and other organizations helping displaced persons and victims of human trafficking.

“My first visit to Ocracoke was to rehearse and get familiar with the organ,” she said prior to the concert. “I loved it here and look forward to returning.”

Weier selected the concert music to reflect the community’s recovery after Dorian, Ricker said.

The organ got a masterful workout.

Among the 15 pieces on the program were “Sonata Op. 65, No. 2” by Felix Mendelssohn, “Fantasia and fugue in C minor, BWV 537” by J.S. Bach and “In the Spirit of Thanksgiving” by Brad Nix that included the church choir.

A stirring rendition of “Lotus Land Op. 47, No. 1” by Cyril Scott demonstrated the great diversity of sounds the organ can deliver.

“Jennifer has a standing invite to return and play for us anytime,” said an appreciative Pastor Logan.

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