“If You Grew Up Southern Baptist” – Part of a Somewhat True Story of My Childhood in Greensboro, GA

“Organ Pipes”

Sometimes people do things shunning any consequences just to have a story to tell later in life. This is one of those stories.


A certain church in my hometown regaled in its reputation as having the finest organ in the county. The majestic brass pipes that climbed the eastern sanctuary walls perfectly offset the stained glass windows on the other side. The choir entered through the back of the sanctuary behind the pulpit next to the small partitioned pool used for baptisms on designated Sundays throughout the year. As the organ pumped out melodious hymns, the choir would chime in with the lyrics and the entire sanctuary was filled with a heavenly rhythm. Until….

One day Ralph and I were sneaking around the inner fixtures of the church during a break from youth activities on a spring Sunday evening. Innocently enough, we found a way into the mysterious “Pipe Room” and ultimately a world of mischief.

Each pipe’s bottleneck had a specifically weighted governor that controlled the amount of air that passed to create a specific tune much like the tautness of a piano string for a specific string. We thought, “Hey! What if we…?” Yep, we began to switch the governors between the organ pipes, a Middle C for a Treble Clef, a big one for a small one. Innocent enough, right?

Before the youth group reconvened for the Youth Supper we slipped back out of the Pipe Room and innocently meandered back to the Fellowship Hall. No harm, no foul.

That evening’s service was not normal to begin with, and it was odd that the prologue of the service was conducted with the piano only added to the foreboding atmosphere. The small choir moved to its place and the opening invocation given. And then God revealed himself in a mysterious way.

The pastor offered another prayer and the music director instructed the congregation. “Please turn to Hymn 47, How Great Thou Art. 1st, 2nd, and 4th verses.” No one stands for the singing until summoned by the music director. The chorus of the song is musically introduced by the piano while everyone turns to the appropriate page. The organ chimed in as the people began to rise and sing.

What emanated from the pipes was not heavenly at all. I can still see the older members of the church cringing their faces like babies who had just tasted lemon concentrate. It sounded like a statically charged AM radio station broadcasting a group of penguins that had been gargling with rusty razor blades.

And no one knew what to do. People were singing half-mumbled words. One eye would be on the text, the other surveying the congregation for direction on how to proceed. The piano continued faithfully, but it still sounded like a cacophony of hoarse sirens or a group of second-tier chorus angels who didn’t make the touring cherub choir. It was like a musical version of the marriage of Heaven and Hell.

Now the organ player was actually my current math teacher and any experienced teacher knows her students, in and out of the classroom. Also, most Baptist organ players utilize a rear view mirror to ascertain when to play the Doxology after the deacons gather; she was looking for demons. She positioned the mirror to locate the youth section where the younger people like me sat for the service. But the eyes the reflected in the mirror were not human; they were otherworldly. And they were looking directly at me. A sort of Judgment Day, but at the wrong “gate.”

The confusion at this tower of Babel continued and I quickly feigned a prayer of absolution hoping that the look on my face mimicked someone sincerely taken aback by the confusion. The preacher walked to the podium and sang loudly to continue the hymn. The music director motioned to the mathematical organ player to stop playing, leaving the piano player to offer the final two verses some sort of salvation.

No one ever confronted me about those events, and I do fell as if I have been forgiven. But I do remember a great amount of math homework for many days.