Historic Pocatello church recovers after March boiler explosion

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Frans Bosman works on cleaning disassembled organ pipes May 9 at the First Congregational United Church of Christ in Pocatello. Bosman removed black dust in the pipes after a boiler explosion in the church. | Idaho State Journal

POCATELLO — The First Congregational United Church of Christ in Old Town Pocatello is coming back to life after a shattering boiler explosion.

The blast that splintered interior doors, shattered light fixtures, damaged walls and seriously injured an American Falls couple happened March 21 when the church’s old boiler, which was thought to be disconnected from the natural gas supply, erupted.

The work to restore the oldest church in Pocatello, however, makes it seem like the blast that rocked the structure was ages ago.

“I really feel like we’ve been walking in God’s blessing throughout the entire thing,” said Starr Reardon, lay pastor and groundskeeper at the church.

The church was shut down shortly after the explosion, and its congregation convened for services at a house next door. As plaster was repaired, lights were replaced, new carpet was installed and doors were rebuilt, the church got closer to being accessible again.

Two funerals were held in May before regular worship resumed in the church’s sanctuary on June 4, which just so happened to be Pentecost.

“It was very jovial,” Reardon said. “We had met in the chapel in the building for two or three weeks prior to that, but (we didn’t) have a chance to be in the sanctuary. … We still need some repairs. We’re getting a new carpet (and) waiting to get the sanctuary doors back. It’s a process, but it’s well underway. The church looks beautiful.”

After the explosion, the church was worried about possible damage to the over-100-year-old pipe organ that sits in the sanctuary. So Frans Bosman, of Mosier, Oregon, was called upon.

In 1999, Bosman, who has his own company, Bosman Pipe Organs, was brought on board to enlarge the organ to 22 ranks of pipes, double its original number of ranks.

Every year since, Bosman has returned to the church and its organ to perform routine maintenance on it. When he was informed of the explosion and the possible damage to the instrument, he came to Pocatello as soon as he could to assess the organ.

The good news was that, as far as Bosman could tell, the organ suffered no structural or electrical damage. The bad news, however, was that fine, black dust had settled into the instrument’s pipes. If the dust was to get pulled into the organ’s blowing system, said the church’s organist Shelley Hardin, the organ could cipher, a defect that causes pipes to continuously make sound.

Once Bosman determined what needed to be done, he set to work. On May 9, he began the meticulous project.

“Those pipes had to be cleaned out — completely taken apart and then cleaned out,” Bosman said. “All the brass parts that are creating the tone had to be repolished. Quite a bit of debris came out of them. That took several days to do that, and then of course debris had to be removed from other parts of the organ, and then the organ had to be retuned.”

The entire endeavor took four days — just in time for the funeral of one of the church’s more longstanding members, Doris Mauk, who passed away just a few months shy of her 100th birthday.

Now the organ at the First Congregational United Church of Christ sounds as majestic and heavenly as ever. After being put through a frightening ordeal, the instrument was healed, rejuvenated, renewed — just like the church and its congregation.

“It’s an organ that is there every Sunday when people come to church,” Hardin said. “As people come in the church and think about what happened this week in their life, hopefully the music can go inside them and help them figure out what they want to do with their life and be a comfort. Maybe the hymns, maybe they’re still in their head when they leave the service. … It’s hard to express the visceral reaction our bodies have to music. It can make us feel things we weren’t anticipating feeling, and that’s kind of the Holy Spirit working with us as well.”

This article was originally published in the Idaho State Journal. It is used here with permission.

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