She’d love to do it but her fingers just aren’t the same anymore. Freda Norris would play the organ with her elbows, if God would allow her. Slowed by arthritis, the 95-year-old member of Orestes Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in Orestes, Ind., does well these days just to make it to Sunday morning service some three blocks away.
"I started out on a piano because back years ago, we didn’t have an organ," recalls Norris. "I was only about 10 when I started playing piano. Back at that time in the summer most kids took music lessons of some kind and I took piano lessons." She had several piano teachers over the years but her calling would turn out to be playing the organ, although she didn’t own one until she was over the age of 40. She loves playing hymns at Orestes Christian Church, where she has been the organist for 82 years.
"I am not playing as much now because I haven’t been well. I had a heart attack a little over a year ago and I’m 95 years old," says Norris.
The church had a "Freda Norris Appreciation Day" in her honor on March 14. Located along State Road 28 in North Central Indiana, about a third of Orestes’ 400 residents showed up for the celebration of Norris’ lifelong commitment and dedication to the church.
"Everybody at the church has been just wonderful to me," the organist beams. "I got a big bouquet of flowers, cards – one from the whole congregation that had been signed along with individual cards. It was just amazing to me."
Norris started attending Orestes Christian at about age 3 and has been there ever since. As a member of the church’s search committee in 1992, she contacted Courtley V. Granger to ask him if he would consider being pastor of their congregation. Granger was a respectable fellow that everybody in the community knew and liked, Norris says.
Feeling that something unusual was about to occur to him, "I had gone home and told my wife I thought that something was going to happen," says Granger, who was serving as an associate minister at Madison Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in Frankton, Ind. at the time. "I didn’t know what. I had a strange feeling; just like God was speaking to me or something. I got home and she called just a few minutes later and asked me if I’d come over and talk to them about becoming a minister here." He accepted the call and has been pastor at Orestes ever since.
The pastor’s wife, Rita, normally plays the piano at church but lately has been filling in for Norris whose arthritis has kept her from playing. Norris’ hands just don’t move like they used to but she’s recovering and looking forward to perhaps playing again someday.
"I’ll tell you if that woman can make it to church in any way shape or form, she makes it. She’s just a sweet lady," notes Granger.
Danny Granger, the pastor’s cousin and chairman of the church board agrees. "She feels it’s her job to serve this church," he says. "Of course, she does it with no pay Sunday after Sunday. The only reason that she has stopped right now temporarily is because her fingers have swollen up."
Eulen Walker, 83, Norris’ nephew, lived with her and his mother, Mary Norris, and his grandparents and for most of his life. "She is probably about the oldest one in the community now," he says of Norris. "She’s the only one I got now."
Though she has been unable to play hymns on the organ, it has not stopped Norris from trying. "I go (to church) but I just don’t play as much as I did," she says. "I try to go every Sunday. I have been retired for a while but I play once in a while to just kind of keep in touch."
Every time she does, the congregation knows that they are in for a real treat.
By James Patterson