With the removal of large pieces of plywood and fabric, Trinity Lutheran Church unveiled the organ chamber in its sanctuary that had been hidden away for nearly 50 years.

The Kilgen pipe organ was donated in honor of F.O. Johnson, a former mayor of McPherson who was also the attorney who started the law firm that is now Reber & Wise.

"Mrs. Johnson and her daughter, Adelyn, gave the church this organ in 1938," said Troy Wiens, building committee member. "...When they moved it into this building, the plan was to get a new organ."

When Trinity Lutheran's sanctuary was built in 1970, it featured 40-foot ceilings and a mansard roof. It also included an organ chamber that was meant for a smaller instrument, but the church never got around to replacing the 1938 organ.

The organ's pipes were designed to be hidden, so a facade was built to encase them in a room that could only be accessed by descending a flight of concrete stairs and then ascending two separate ladders.

"You had to be able to get the sound through the wall, so they covered (the organ chamber) with speaker cloth," Wiens said.

The volunteers aiding the church's renovation expected they would need to replace the 80-year-old Kilgen pipe organ. When experts looked it over, however, they told the renovation committee that the quality of the instrument meant they could restore it, instead.

"It's not a museum piece," said Pastor Tim Leaf. "It's functional."

The church decided to honor its history and heritage by continuing to use the organ, incorporating it into the renovation plans.

The nearly 30-foot tall facade in front of the instrument has already been removed. After Easter services, the organ will undergo two months of restoration.

"This organ is going to be taken out and taken up to Lincoln, Nebraska," said building committee member Richard Gusé. "...They'll expand it and the console will be digitized."

In the meantime, other renovation projects are underway in the sanctuary.

A new entry and stairway into the organ chamber will be built, eliminating the need for ladders.

The green carpet that was installed in 1970 has already been removed and will be replaced with tile flooring.

"(The carpet) had been in and out of style three times," Leaf laughed.

Not only will the change enhance the aesthetic appeal of the space, it will improve acoustics in the sanctuary as well.

"We had been told by three different acoustic specialists that the carpet needed to go," Wiens said.

The church members have already heard evidence of the change, as playing the organ now results in it ringing out with a more cathedral-like sound, Leaf noted.

Further acoustic improvement will occur when the organ returns from renovation. The console will be moved out from under an overhang, allowing the organist to both see the conductor and time keystrokes with more accuracy.

"There's a lag time from when she hits the key (down) here to when the noise comes out up there," Wiens pointed out.

After the organ is replaced. a new facade that incorporates visible pipes will be added.

"We don't quite know how it's going to look but we're headed in a solid direction," Leaf said.

The church still plans to hold services in the sanctuary as often as it can while completing the renovation project.

"The organ company doesn't want construction happening when they bring a cleaned, rebuilt instrument in," Gusé said.

When renovations are finished, the sanctuary will have additional decoration of spiritual symbols and will switch out the majority of its pews for chairs.

"We want to make this space flexible for a lot of different uses," Gusé said.

Contact Patricia Middleton by email at pmiddleton@mcphersonsentinel.com or follow her stories on Twitter at @MiddleSentinel.