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Homeless man damages organ pipes at Edwards' church


NORTHAMPTON, Mass. (RNS) When the First Churches pipe organ welcomed the congregation back Nov. 23, only trained musicians would notice a couple of notes missing on the lowest register.

Many more will probably know the story of the homeless man and his very expensive nap in the church where Puritan preacher Jonathan Edwards once thundered from the pulpit.

Four of the organ’s biggest pipes were damaged Nov. 11 when the man mistook them for rolled up rugs and went to sleep on them in the church basement.

The pipes were being stored there while a local company rebuilds the 3,000-pipe organ in conjunction with a $2 million renovation of the church’s roof and sanctuary ceiling.

Church administrator Joan R. Frederick said the man, whom church authorities did not identify, was among a group of homeless people who attend job counseling sessions in the church basement on Tuesdays and Thursdays. When the Tuesday session ended at 10 a.m., he apparently wandered undetected into the dark part of the basement where the pipes were lying wrapped in plastic.

“After the meeting, he snuck through and took a snooze on the pipes,” Frederick said.

A church sexton discovered the sleeping man about a half hour later, but couldn’t tell if he was breathing.

“The sexton didn’t know if he was dead or alive,” Frederick said.

Police and ambulance workers arrived within minutes and took the man, who was apparently medicated and without his glasses, to the hospital. Although he was fine, workers found his snooze had damaged four of the pipes to the tune of about $10,000.

“They can be repaired, but it’s complicated and expensive,” said William F. Czelusniak of Messrs. Czelusniak Et Dugal, Inc. Organbuilders.

The church was closed last year after a chunk of plaster fell 35 feet from the ceiling and smashed into some pews. First Churches went on a $2 million fund-raising campaign to pay for the restoration project.

Czelusniak’s crew removed about half of the 3,000 organ pipes, storing the largest in the basement. Built in 1878, the organ would cost about $1.25 million to replace in its entirety, Czelusniak said.

Two of the four damaged pipes are ornamental and make no sound. Because they all have a decorative pattern, however, restoring them will be time-consuming. A consultant from Connecticut will document the colors and patterns on the pipes so they can be re-created after the dents are repaired.

Frederick said the church will not press charges against the man who went to sleep on the pipes.