Now, if ever, we all need to lift up our sights, widen our horizons and strive for the lofty. In lowliness and commonness there is no hope.

One of the joys of sharing The Agitator with Tom is there are no control-freak editors. We each have our say. So, today, I’m pre-empting one of Tom’s important modern or even post-modern pieces on email marketing or some such arcania to talk about church organs.

That’s right, church organs. Those lofty, awe inspiring instruments which made nobility and peasants alike tremble in the cold cathedrals of olde. But wait! Why in the world, when our numbers are melting down, would anyone, let alone an Agitator editor like Craver, be raving about this?

Let me tell you why. For as long as we’ve been publishing, we’ve also been advising to stick to the message of your mission. Reminding our readers that diverting from the basic path leads to perdition and worse — bad numbers.

The fact is, there’s proof of all this in the most fundamental and old-fashioned institution of all — the grand churches and cathedrals of the world. In fact, most fundraisers would note and agree — especially this fundraiser — that when it comes to raising money and bonding with your constituency, who in the world would think of church organs as a leading edge example of how to do it right?

Fortunately, I had the pleasure last night of eavesdropping on an "organ builder." Yes, there are still craftspeople who build and refurbish organs for the mighty churches and cathedrals. At first I thought to myself, "Why in the world aren’t they running soup kitchens and paying off their parishioners’ mortgages rather than spending millions on air and pipes." So, I leaned over and asked them and got an impressive earful! Here’s their argument on why churches should spend millions on organs.

Organs do not cause poverty … in the hour a week folks spend in church the churches themselves have the opportunity to provide beauty and ‘do it right’ … the fact that churches don’t have modern singer/songwriters and composers using the organ is their own short-sighted fault … and, after all, the mission or business of a church is to be ‘transcendent.’ And these guys weren’t even drinking.

It all got me to thinking: When institutions abandon the trappings of their missions do they lose their constituencies? When it comes to organs, apparently they do.According to these good and sober organ makers, those churches and cathedrals who have invested anywhere between $750,000 and multi-millions in their organs have shown a resurgence in congregation and community participation. They cited, among others, Christ Church Cathedral in Nashville, which has become a community center for the arts. St. Olaf’s in Minneapolis and Christ Church in New Haven, which are bringing in the young and old in droves.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not recommending a federal bailout for the organ industry. Rather, just trying to make a point that institutions who stick to the basics, their genesis, probably do best in times like these. Churches with music and beauty — the origins at least of the Western catholic and protestant denominations — probably are doing much better than those who provide the iPod version of culture, even though they offer child care and slick-haired preachers on the side.

I don’t know about you, but I’d love to hear more great organ music. And in this century, let’s hear it from Dylan, Jeff Buckley, Bono, Neil Young and the Rev. Al Young. To remind yourself what great sounds the pipes produce and since I spend some of my time in the great medieval city of Haarlem in the Netherlans check out the organ in St. Bavo cathederal by clicking here. And you thought I spent all my time reading Fundraising Success Magazine. Shame.

And use the accompaniment to think about your basic mission and whether or not you’re delivering the music and the message.

Roger

P.S. I’d be happy to elaborate on this theme during our next Agitator Editors Tele-briefing, next Friday Dec 12th, at 2-3pm eastern. You can register here for your free seat. The official topic is "Giving Across the Generations."

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