Pack a Hearty Helping of Art, Music and History Into Your Lunch Hour at First Congregational Church’s First Tuesday Concert

First Congregational Church’s First Tuesday lunchtime concert First Congregational Church, Columbus, Ohiofor February was a welcome, restorative break from fussing with Fearless Leaders, Monday-meeting minutes and strategic planning spreadsheets. 

I’ve taken you to this lovely sanctuary at the Downtown Columbus corner of East Broad and North 9th Streets before. My very first blog post was about a quick visit I made to this creation of John Russell Pope, the architect of the National Gallery of Art, the Jefferson Memorial and the National Archives. 

But this time, I sat down and soaked up more of this historic landmark while listening to a half-hour organ recital.

Years ago, when I took a Columbus Symphony Orchestra course on Johann Sebastian Bach, I heard G. Dene Barnard, the church’s organist and choirmaster emeritus, play some Bach compositions on the church’s Beckerath organ from Hamburg, Germany in its choir loft gallery. Beckerath organ, First Congregational Church

For this concert, Marti Rideout treated the audience to five selections on the chancel organ, which W.W. Kimball of Chicago created for the building’s opening in 1931. 

Kimball organ, First Congregational ChurchWhile I couldn’t see how Mrs. Rideout was employing the organ’s four keyboards and 4,500 pipes from its console, I could sure hear the joyful sounds of Choral, from Joseph Jongen’s Four Pieces, Op. 37; Theodore Dubois’ Toccata; and Dan Locklair’s Rubrics: A Liturgical Suite for Organ. I couldn’t help but hum along with C. Alexander Peloquin’s Partita on The Lourdes Hymn (Chorale & Eight Variations) when I recognized the tune of “Immaculate Mary” from my Catholic hymnal. And as I listened to The Cantabile from Joseph W. Clokey’s Symphonic Fantasy on the Tune of “St. Patrick’s Breastplate,” I took heart from the lyrics of this hymn inspired by the Gaelic poem invoking protection that I first heard Lisa Kelly of Celtic Woman sing in “The Deer’s Cry.” 

As my ears listened to Mrs. Rideout play, my eyes wandered around, taking in the Gothic Revival church’s beautiful interior. Its magnificent stained glass windows were designed and built by some of the most important stained glass artists and studios of the 20th century, including the Nichola D’ Asenczo Studio in Philadelphia, Charles J. Connick of Boston, and Gabriel Loire of Chartres, France. Later, I discovered that Loire’s windows depicting The Resurrection and The New Jerusalem were dedicated to fellow CSG girl Susan DeWitt Minus (1966-1981). 

Stained glass windows, First Congregational Church

With its enameled copper facets and Brazilian rosewood, the chancel cross was designed and created by William J. Thompson, assistant professor of art at The Ohio State University, in 1963. During worship services and other sacramental events, a banner holder designed and fabricated in 2003 by metal artist Albert Paley of Rochester, New York holds banners based on the liturgical seasons of the church year that were created by textile artist Deborah Anderson of Columbus. 

Chancel, First Congregational Church

Two Brussels tapestries hang on the north walls of the transepts. Designed and woven in 1575 by Franz Geubels, they are based on Raphael’s drawings of scenes from the life of Abraham. DSCN4607

The organ recital wasn’t the only reason for my visit. I had also planned to meet Rick Sayre, First Congregational Church’s archivist, to see a painting by Josephine Klippart, a local artist who had belonged to the church. Rick also pointed out paintings by Marion Tibbetts, another local artist and church member, but the real treat was seeing dozens of watercolors by Ralph Fanning, an Ohio State University professor of art history who worshipped at First Congregational Church for decades before he died in 1971. Spotting the signature style of this favorite artist, I was thrilled to stand before Fanning’s depictions of sights not only from his extensive travels, but also of the church’s construction and dedication in 1931. To learn more about Fanning, track down “A Painter and a Gentleman: Ralph Fanning,” George W. Paulson’s article in the May-June 2000 issue of the Ohio Historical Society’s TIMELINE. 

Watercolor of First Congregational Church by Ralph Fanning

Then, Rick’s tour turned to Washington Gladden, the author, preacher and Social Gospel Movement leader who served as pastor of First Congregational Church from 1882 to 1914. After showing me a portrait of Gladden painted by a contemporary of his who was a curator at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Rick told me about the hostas in the church’s garden that are named for Gladden’s daughter, Alice, who was CSG’s headmistress from 1904 to 1926. 

Entering the Gladden Chapel, a cozy, low-ceilinged space with hand-hewn cypress beams, Rick pointed out Gladden’s very own Gothic Revival chair… 

Washington Gladden's chair, First Congregational Church

…as well as his handsome pulpit, which could be raised or lowered to accommodate his 5’3” height. Behind the pulpit is a triptych of circa-1916 stained glass windows depicting the Good Shepherd, which were moved from the narthex of the church’s previous home at 74 East Broad Street, across from the Statehouse on Capitol Square. You can see a sketch of the church’s former home on the right-hand side of Washington Gladden’s bookplate, from the Ohio Historical Society’s collection. 

Washington Gladden's pulpit and triptych of windows, First Congregational Church

If, like me, you enjoy spending your lunch hour indulging in a hearty helping of art, music and history, add First Congregational Church’s First Tuesdays to your calendar. The free concerts begin at 12:15 p.m.; an optional $5 lunch is served in the Parish Hall at 12:45 p.m. On Tuesday, March 4, the last day before Lent, revel in comic opera selections featuring the words of Sir W.S. Gilbert and the music of Sir Arthur Sullivan. Harpsichordist Kevin Jones will play the Bach Two-Part Inventions on Tuesday, April 1.

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