SEABROOK — For 177 years, the historic religious meeting house now known as Trinity United Church, has stood at the southern tip of Lafayette Road, and amazingly, for 50 of those years, Cynthia Locke Brown has been seated behind its 160-year old pipe organ providing music for Sunday worship.
“She’s just great, a pleasure to work with. Cynthia plays beautifully,” Trinity United’s current choir director Lucy Woodes said. “She doesn’t realize how good she really is.”
At tomorrow’s 11 a.m. service, the church will celebrate Brown’s half-century as the congregation’s organist. Although many will join to make it a special day, Woodes said, some are fearful the milestone will mark a coming change.
“I think many people are very sad to think that she might retire after this,” Woodes said. “She plays without charge. Most church organists are paid and they usually aren’t members of the church.”
The wife of local Brown’s Lobster Pound owner, Bruce Brown, Cynthia Brown is the mother of three grown sons, and grandmother of many. Although she took piano lessons as a child and loved playing, she never set out to sit behind the church’s grand organ every Sunday. But when the church’s former organist left, Brown was “volunteered” to fill in temporarily by her mother-in-law, Viola Brown in 1963. Since then, the church never saw reason to find anyone else.
“When I first started, I was so nervous, I used to say a prayer no one would come,” Brown said in a previous interview. “Then, I prayed there’d be so many people, their voices would fill the church so they couldn’t hear me play. Now, I feel such grandeur when I hear the people singing.”
Trinity United Church member Eric Small remembers a time early in her career when Brown agonized over her playing.
“I remember once she was in tears at the back of the church after services because she’d made this tiny mistake everyone else had forgotten about,” Small said. “She was very sensitive. Always wanted to do her best. But she’s just an excellent organist. She does a spectacular job.”
More accustomed to playing a piano when she started at Trinity United at the age of 24, the church’s organ was a challenge, Brown has admitted. Although she’s developed a fondness for the 1853 Philadelphia-built organ today, she played it for eight years before she tackled using the foot pedals.
Son Norman Brown remembers Sunday mornings as a boy. His father went off to the restaurant, and he and his brothers Bruce and Robert, headed to Sunday school and then to services. He can’t remember a time when his mom wasn’t sitting up front playing the organ, he said.
He didn’t appreciate her talents at the time, he said, nor the music at home while he was growing up. But he does now.
Daughter-in-law Sandy Brown loves Cynthia’s involvement in the church the whole family attends.
“It’s been amazing for my daughters to listen to her play at services,” Sandy Brown said. “The organ brings the church to life; filling the sanctuary and folks with harmony. We aren’t afraid to sing aloud when Cindy plays. Together we sound amazing.”
Woodes said Cynthia Brown’s personality is as important to the congregation as her music.
“She loves it when the choir gathers around her piano in her beautiful home for rehearsal,” Woodes said. “She’s just always a happy and giving woman. She loves her church and is friendly to everyone.”
About 10 years ago, Trinity’s former pastor, Dr. Wilbert D. Gough wrote a tribute to the organist whose music praises the Lord at weekly worship.
“Cynthia Brown is not only a talented and dedicated organist, but a great servant of Jesus Christ and the church,” Gough wrote. “She inspires the congregation to sing God’s praises so beautifully. ... She is an inspiration to us all.”