The design and installation of the Van Ness Hamrick Organ was the result of a confluence of events that began with the need to address problems with the aging Austin pipe organ.
St. Peter’s purchased the Austin organ (Opus 1872) in 1934, in the midst of the Great Depression. By all accounts, the modest instrument was a vast improvement over the previous organ, even though in response to the difficult economic times, the Austin Company used pipes from St. Peter’s existing instrument in its new organ. This made the project financially possible but diminished the quality of the instrument. Moreover, while the pipes came from the existing organ, other parts came from unknown instruments that predated 1934. By the turn of the century, some of them could no longer be repaired or replaced.(After more than seventy years of faithful service, the Austin organ was given to Alan McNeely, a former employee of the defunct Austin Organ Company, who ran a rescue organization that provided pipes, mechanical parts, and other paraphernalia to people and organizations in need.)
St. Peter’s formed an organ committee in the spring of 2001 to consider whether the Austin organ could be salvaged or had to be replaced. As the committee saw it, the task was “to develop and plan for an organ that would enable St. Peter’s to minister more effectively to its members and to the community through a deepening worship of God and through dedicated outreach to the community.”
Coincidentally, in May 2004, the parish’s leadership called for the development of a long-term strategic plan to determine the best way for St. Peter’s to respond to the city’s burgeoning population. After a year’s work and deliberation, in March 2005 the vestry moved to develop a master plan for the church building and surrounding areas.
Two months later, after several years of research, consultation with experts, and visits to other churches, the organ committee recommended in May that the Austin organ be replaced with a new instrument to be designed and built by C. B. Fisk, Inc., of Gloucester, Massachusetts. With the issuance of the organ committee’s report, the symmetry between the need for a new organ and a renovated church building became apparent.
The vestry received a report from the architectural firm of Eason & Farlow in December 2005 assessing the needs of the church, hired the consulting firm of Vandever Batten, Inc., of Charlotte to assess the viability of a capital campaign, and in 2007 formed a Capital Campaign Cabinet to lead the way in raising funds.
The Knocking on Heaven’s Door capital campaign had three goals: to renovate the church building, to build and install a new pipe organ, and—in the best of St. Peter’s traditions—to create an endowed outreach fund. The target was to raise $4 million, a goal that was met with the aid of the St. Peter’s Church Endowment, which agreed to contribute $1 million to the campaign if parishioners and friends of the church would agree to pledge the remaining $3 million.
The successful conclusion of the capital campaign drive was announced on October 12, 2008, by Capital Campaign Committee Chairman Bill Williamson at a celebration brunch following a Eucharist service attended by over 300 members of the St. Peter’s parish family.