The United Congregational Church, Bridgeport (History Only)

877 Park Avenue, Bridgeport, CT Get directions Visit Website

Dr. John Michniewicz, Former Director of Music

The United Congregational Church is now the Islamic Center of Bridgeport (as of May 2017). The UCC family has been diligent in its efforts to find new homes for the wonderful 81-rank Austin and 2 smaller pipe organs. The congregation continues a new chapter of worship and music at the Bessemer Center on North Avenue in Bridgeport. We will forever cherish the many musical concerts performed in this great worship space. Thankfully the photos and videos of concerts in these past 15 years are available on our website – click here.

1953/2000 Austin IV /81 ranks, 1983 Roche II/11 ranks, 1988 Delhumeau II/10 ranks, Hammond B3, Harpsichord

A Majestic Church With Vast Musical Resources Used For Numerous Interfaith and Area Concerts

The United Congregational Church, (United Church) at the corner of Park Avenue and State Street was settled in 1695, which makes this congregation older than the city of Bridgeport by 141 years; and older than the Constitution by 81 years. The current building seating 1,000, was built in 1926. United Congregational Church has a rich musical past, and much like the Center Churches in New Haven, continues to host numerous concerts, memorial services, special events, in addition to being an active house of worship.

The Organs of United Church

1953/2000 Austin IV manuals/81 ranks, 1988 Delhumeau II manuals/11 ranks, 1983 Roche II manuals/11 ranks

Dr. John Michniewicz is the Minister of Music at United and is largely responsible, along with the church trustees, to ensure the 3 pipe organs, multiple Steinway pianos, harpsichord, and even a Hammond B-3, are available for church services and concerts.

The wonderful 1953/2000 Austin IV manuals/81 rank pipe organ is clearly a favorite instrument by visiting organist. In 2000, a new moveable console, 8 additional unenclosed pipe ranks in a floating Positive Division, along with several 32′ pedal electronic stops were added to the current extensive organ stoplist, which includes a 16-rank antiphonal division high above the balcony, almost a block away from the console.

Main Sanctuary Organ Specification, Austin No. 2093-A, 4 manuals, 81 ranks, 2000
Originally installed as Austin Organ Company No. 2093, 4 Manuals, 65 Ranks, 1953. In year 2000 additions included a new console, Positive division, and 8 ranks by the Walker Technical Company.


Great Organ (Manual II)
Rohrbourdon 16
Diapason 8
Spitzprincipal 8
Gemshorn 8
Octave 4
Rohrbourdon 4
Twelth 2/ 2/3
Fifteenth 2
Mixture  IV
Fanfare Trumpet (ant) 8
Chimes (solo)  
Tower Chimes (solo)  
Great Sub  
Great Unison off  
Great super  
Antiphonal I on Great
Antiphonal II on Great
Choir Organ (Manual I Expressive)
Viola 8
Bourdon 8
Dolce 8
Dolce Celeste 8
Octave Gemshorn 4
Koppelflöte 4
Nazard 2 2/3
Blockflöte 2
Tierce 1 3/5
Trompette 8
Cor Anglais 4
Fanfare Trumpet (ant) 8
Choir Sub  
Choir Unison off  
Choir Super  
Harp (prepared)  
Celesta (prepared)  
Antiphonal  I on Choir
Antiphonal II on Choir
Montre 8
Rohrflöte 8
Spitzprincipal 4
Koppelflöte 4
Mixture III  
Octave 2
Krummhorn 8
Positive Super  
Positive Unison off  
Positive Sub  
SWELL ORGAN (Manual III expressive)
Geigen Diapason 8
Melodia 8
Viole de gambe 8
Salicional 8
Viole Céleste 8
Voix Céleste 8
Fugara 4
Chimney Flute 4
Flautino 2
Mixture III
Contra Oboe 16
Trumpet 8
Oboe 8
Clarion 4
Fanfare Trumpet (ant)  
Swell Sub  
Swell Unison Off  
Swell Super  
Antiphonal I on Swell
Antiphonal  II on Swell
Positive on Swell  
SOLO ORGAN (Manual IV, expressive)
Principal Flute 8
Gambe (digital) 8
Gambe Celeste (digital) 8
Orchestral Flute (digital) 4
Harmonic Trumpet 8
French Horn 8
Clarinet 8
Orchestral Oboe 4
Fanfare Trumpet (ant) 8
Tower Chimes  
Chimes (digital)  
Harp (choir)  
Celesta (choir)  
Solo Sub  
Solo Unison Off  
Solo Super  
Antiphonal I on Solo
Antiphonal  II on Solo
Diapason 8
Trumpet 8
Concert Flute 8
Spitz Flute 8
Spitz Flute Celeste 8
Viole 8
Nacht Horn 4
Octave 4
Mixture III  
Trumpet 8
Vox Humana  
Cor d’Amour  
Antiphonal I Sub
Antiphonal I Unison Off
Antiphonal  I Super
Diapason Conique 8
Concert Flute 8 (Antiphonal 1)
Spitz Flute  8 (Antiphonal 1)
Spitz Flute Celeste  8 (Antiphonal 1)
Viole  8 (Antiphonal 1)
Nacht Horn  4 (Antiphonal 1)
Tremolo  (Antiphonal 1)
Antiphonal  II Sub
Antiphonal  II Unison Off
Antiphonal II Super
Trumpet 8
Contre Violone (digital) 32
Contra Bourdon (digital) 32
Diapason 16
Bourdon 16
Contra Salicional (swell) 16
Lieblich Gedeckt 16
Rohrbourdon (great) 16
Octave 8
Bourdon 8
Principal 8
Flute 8
Rohrbourdon (great) 8
Dolce Flute 8
Choral Bass 4
Rohrbourdon (great) 4
Flute 4
Flute 2
Mixture  III
Contra Bombarde (digital) 32
Bombarde 16
Contra Oboe (swell) 16
Bombarde 8
Fanfare Trumpet (ant) 8
Clarion 4
Chimes (solo)  
Tower Chimes (solo) 8
Antiphonal I To Pedal 8
Antiphonal II To Pedal 8
Great To Pedal 8
Swell To Pedal 8
Choir To Pedal 8
Positive To Pedal 8
Solo To Pedal 8
Great To Pedal 4
Swell To Pedal 4
Choir To Pedal 4
Positive To Pedal 4
Solo To Pedal 4
Swell to Great 16
Swell to Great 8
Swell to Great 4
Choir to Great 16
Choir to Great 8
Choir to Great 4
Positive to Great 16
Positive to Great 8
Positive to Great 4
Solo to Great 16
Solo to Great 8
Solo to Great 4
Swell To Choir 16
Swell To Choir 8
Swell To Choir 4
Solo To Choir 16
Solo To Choir 8
Solo To Choir 4
Solo to Swell 16
Solo To Swell 8
Solo to Swell 4
Positive on Solo 8
Positive on Swell 8
All Swells To Swell  
Pedal Divide  
Great/ Choir Transfer


Also in the Sanctuary is the 1988 Delhumeau II manuals/11 rank tracker organ, Hammond B-3, Harpsichord and Steinway grand piano. In the Chapel, but within ear-shot of the other organs (we have had several concerts using the 3 pipe organs), is the 1983 Roche II manuals/11 rank tracker organ.

Concerts/Worship at United Church

With the help of many, United Church continues to host many fine musical concerts, is home to the United Chorale, Norma Pfriem Children’s Choir, and supports a Schola program for young choral students. The Greater Bridgeport AGO Chapter and United Congregational Church host an Annual Pipe Screams Concert that features many of our AGO Chapter members, university choirs, that entertains 850+ attendees. The net proceeds from this joint effort goes to support the M. Louise Scholarship Award used to help young organists with college tuition and expenses. We are very appreciative for the staff and congregational support for our POE event using this great venue.

Recent AGO Performances

Programs, Videos, Photos:
March 6, 2011 – 2nd Annual Community Choral Festival
June 6, 2010 – Frederick Teado Pipe Organ Encounter Recital

October 21, 2012 – 11th Annual Pipescreams
October 30, 2011 – 10th Annual Pipescreams
October 30, 2010 – 9th Annual Pipescreams
October 25, 2009 – 8th Annual Pipescreams
October 19, 2008 – 7th Annual Pipescreams
October 21, 2007 – 6th Annual Pipescreams
October 22, 2006 – 5th Annual Pipescreams
October 23, 2005 – 4th Annual Pipescreams
October 24, 2004 – 3rd Annual Pipescreams
October 25, 2003 – 2nd Annual Pipescreams
October 27, 2002 – 1st Annual Pipescreams 


Detailed History of the Four Organs of United Congregational Church (from 1926)

Austin Organ, 2093-A


The current large Pipe Organ in the church chancel and sanctuary was first installed in 1953 in the American Classic Style by the Austin Organs, Inc. of Hartford Conn. Austin Organs, from its founding in 1899 to the present day, has provided high quality instruments to churches and institutions all across the country and around the world.

After the United Congregational Church was opened in 1926, the original organ in the church’s Chancel was a 34 rank organ built by Harry Hall of West Haven, Conn. Along with some new pipework, it utilized a large combination of pipes and mechanical elements from the former existing organs in the North and South Congregational Churches. Only three ranks were completely new. When the churches merged and eventually built the new United Congregational Church building on the corner of Park Ave. and State St., these organs were removed, combined and reinstalled by the Hall Organ in 1926 in the new church Sanctuary. 

By the 1940’s and 1950’s the church had a large and thriving music program, which the Hall organ was no longer capable of supporting. In addition, and perhaps most importantly, the organ was also becoming more and more mechanically unreliable. Organ repair firms and organ builders were consulted, and uniformly, recommendations were that to repair the old organ and its cobbled together and substandard parts would be a waste of funds. United’s Minister of Music at that time, Benjamin Lehn and his wife, Julia, Music Assistant and Soprano soloist, pushed for a new organ. They recommended an organ that would be able to “maintain a high standard of worship services, and artistic musical accomplishments.”

Austin Organs Inc. was known for its innovative and long lasting mechanical designs, and was also a leading builder of pipe organs in America. In 1952, the church signed a contract as the trustees felt Austin Organs would build the best instrument for United Congregational Church. At that time, the mainstream in organ design was beginning to be more influenced by the Neo-Baroque style of organ building, and Austin Organs were definitely interested in building an organ that reflected the latest thinking in tonal design, especially for such a prominent church as United Congregational, by then the one of the largest Congregational Churches  in Connecticut.  The Neo-Baroque aesthetic that came to more and more prevail as the standard bearer in organ design called for higher pitched mixtures, lower wind pressures, unenclosed divisions and brighter reeds that in many respects more fully reflected and paid homage to the pipe organ’s European Golden Age in the Baroque period.

 After the contract was signed, the Lehn’s might have had second thoughts. Church files show that Benjamin and Julia Lehn then strongly pushed for an organ that would actually match the church’s perhaps more conservative style and tone. They did not want an organ that was seen as too progressive or one that had any “hardness of tone and strident mixtures.” The “Ministry of Music,” in the persons of Benjamin and Julia Lehn, firmly reminded the organ builders that the organ must be capable of leading “inspiring and beautiful worship services” and felt that a more progressive style, as evidenced in the trends of the Neo-Baroque movement that was sweeping across many churches in America, would not be accepted by the congregation at United. Benjamin Lehn asked: “The organ builder and musician can tolerate screeching mixtures, overwhelming hardness of tone, etc.,…but what of the average church member on Sunday morning”?

 Furthermore, they felt that in the recently built Austin organ, in Bridgeport’s nearby First Presbyterian Church,   “warmth and mellowness is lacking” and continued in their appeal: “we sincerely hope you will build more warmth in each rank of our organ, from the Dolce Celeste through the Harmonic Trumpet, and most of all in the mixtures.” They quoted another member of the church (most probably Harold Dart, a longtime area fixture and Professor in the prominent Music Department at the University Bridgeport further down Park Avenue) as stating First Presbyterian’s organ had “not enough foundation in full organ, either in the pedal or manual” and was “too thin and flimsy” with “not enough warmth or mellowness.”

In correspondence with Austin Organs, Benjamin Lehn campaigned strongly against the need “to conform to the accepted trend today” and did not accept the need for “pure organ tone and balance” for its own sake.  They railed against the idea of the organ builder who “is zealous of his responsibility in building a fine instrument which will meet the special ‘standards’ of the prevailing era of organ design, and wishes his instrument to compare favorably with the product of competitive builders” but doesn’t take into consideration the “earnest and conscientious musician who has to use the instrument each week” and for “the congregation who must listen to it.”

In the end, Austin’s Opus 2093 at United Congregational Church, installed in the summer of 1953, magnificently compliments the church’s soaring Georgian Colonial architecture. Mellowness and beauty of tone were built into each rank, and the organ became an accepted and beloved voice in the Congregation’s worship services and concerts. It originally encompassed approximately 65 ranks (or sets) of pipes distributed among Solo, Swell, Great, Choir, Pedal, Antiphonal and Antiphonal Pedal divisions. The open wood 16’ Diapason in the Pedal presents a full, mellow sound that supports the entire organ.  Austin Organs did listen to the Lehns, but did not on the other hand build a dull, tubby, lifeless organ either.

The organ features a full, bold and distinctive sound that easily fills the 1,200 seat church sanctuary.  It certainly reflects, to the present listener, an overall warm and mellow framework that is so much more in style in our present day than organs representing the Neo-Baroque tonal ideal.  Nonetheless, because of the unenclosed Great and Antiphonal Great Principle Choruses, it is still clear and distinct, and as is typical of organs in the American Classic design, still to the present day easily realizes both Baroque and polyphonic repertoire as well as Romantic and 20th Century organ compositions with grace and grandeur. It is ironic, in that many churches that adapted the Neo-Baroque style in organs installed in the 1950’s through the 1970’s are now replacing their instruments, at great expense, with organs that reflect a more Neo-Romantic or American Classic sound as ideal—i.e. organs that are mellower and more pleasant to listen to.   The Neo-Baroque style is largely criticized today for its “screechy mixtures, harsh tone, and unpleasant qualities”, all things reflected by United’s Minister of Music in 1952. His viewpoint, although seen as somewhat old-fashioned in that era, has actually prevailed and most new organs built today reflect the standards of warmth of tone. Guest organists from Princeton University to well-known recitalists who have recently visited and played the Austin Organ at United Congregational have praised it for its beauty of tone and have called it “a great organ.”  

The Austin Organ at United Congregational Church has all the necessary resources for the authentic realization of the full range of organ literature, and is a perfect instrument for the accompaniment of hymns, anthems and oratorios. The organ features 8 divisions, including: Great, Choir, Positive, Swell, Solo, Pedal, Antiphonal, and Antiphonal Pedal.  The organ has a number of special or prominent features in the various divisions. The Solo division features a large Harmonic Trumpet, bold yet with the Lehn’s requested mellowness of tone, a beautiful Clarinet stop, with a very round, flowing sound, a smooth Harmonic Flute, and a Skinner-like French Horn. There is a large scale 16’ Bombarde unit that plays at 16’, 8’ and 4’ in the Pedal division. There are multiple string ranks, including 4 ranks of strings in the Swell Division, 2 ranks of strings in the Choir Division, and 2 ranks of strings in the Antiphonal Division, all unique in their individual tone, but combining to a unified whole. Some additional solo stops including the Vox Humana, Concert Flute, Trumpet and Cor d’Amour, all speak from the antiphonal division high above the rear balcony, along with a Diapason Conique and large scaled Principal Chorus. The Antiphonal Pedal division luxuriously features three 16’ stops: A metal Gedeckt, a wooden Contrebasse, and a Trombone.

In 2000, another chapter in the history of the organ unfolded.  Thanks to a substantial gift from the Norma Pfriem Foundation, the church contracted with Austin Organs, Inc. once again, to provide a 9-rank Positive division, electronic additions and a new console as specified by Dr. John Michniewicz, United’s current Minister of Music. He proposed additions to fill out the organ’s specification, to make the console flexible and better able to control the large instrument, and to be movable for concerts and other performances. 

The Positive division was added in front of the main organ chamber above the chancel in the front of the church. This division’s full Principal Chorus provides a sound lighter in tone, but one that gives an equally distinctive contrast to the commanding Great Principal Chorus and is designed to blend with and draw out the organ’s presence from its chambers into the church sanctuary. The Positive also features an 8’ Montre as its foundation, as well as a beautiful wooden 8’ Holtzgedeckt stained to match the color of the church’s woodwork.  An 8’ Baroque Cromhorne caps the division, and provides distinctive color appropriate to early music. The new Positive division was expressly designed and voiced to fit in with the existing organ’s winning tone and style.   

A new, solid state 4 manual console was installed at the same time as the Positive division.  It can be moved to the center of the chancel for recitals and concerts. This new console was designed to give full and flexible control over the entire organ and antiphonal organ, and features a full complement of musical controls, including 20 general pistons, 8 pistons for each division, 99 levels of memory and a full piston sequencer with 99 levels.  The console is fully MIDI compatible for the control of synthesizer modules and playback devices.  Walker Technical Company provided and voiced 8 electronic ranks to fill out the specification, including three 32’ pedal ranks, chimes and additional solo stops including a 4’ Harmonic Flute, and an orchestrally scaled Viole and a Viole Celeste under expression in the Solo division. Walker Technical Company also provided an additional large antiphonal fanfare trumpet that crowns the organ from the rear antiphonal chamber.

At 81 speaking ranks, the organ is one of the more extensive pipe instruments in Connecticut and is certainly the largest and best equipped pipe organ in the Greater Bridgeport Area.  The church sanctuary  features wonderful acoustics. Because organ  is a fantastic instrument for the realization of the full range of organ literature, many notable and famous organists have presented recitals at United Congregational Church over the years, including, Jean Langlais, John Weaver, Ray Ferguson, Catherine Crozier, Claire Coci and Robert Baker. The organ is also a perfect instrument for accompanying choral music, and in recent years has been used in the accompaniment of oratorios and works such as the Messiah by Handel, to Masses by Haydn and Schubert, Vierne and Langlais, Morten Lauridsen’s Lux Aeterna, and Requiems by Durufle, Mozart, and Rutter.  

With its wide range of sounds, tremulants and coloristic effects, the Austin Organ can even also handle accompanying silent movies in the theatre organ style, and is featured every year at the American Guild of Organists Greater Bridgeport Chapter’s annual Pipescreams concert.  The 1953/2000 Austin Organ, Opus 2093-A, at United Congregational Church is a fantastic example of an organ in the American Classic Style with a mellow, romantic tone somewhatt. It is bold and dramatic, with a sound that is unforced and welcoming and fully supports the church’s outstanding music program. The organ is maintained by Ed Odell, of the historic J.H. and C.S. Odell Pipe Organ Builders of East Hampton, Conn.

Delhumeau and Roche Chamber Pipe Organs

The Baroque styled organ in Howland Chapel as well as the Delhumeau chamber organ in the main sanctuary were also provided by a gift from the Norma Pfriem Foundation. The Delhumeau organ was sourced by Dr. Michniewicz, and purchased from a private owner in San Francisco, California, and was shipped across country by the Organ Clearing House and re-assembled by S.L. Huntington & Co. from Stonington Conn., on a movable platform.  The specification features a half-compass 5 rank solo Cornet on the upper manual, and Principal stops at 8’ and 4’,  Flutes at 4’ and 2’ and a Larigot on the lower manual.  The lower manual couples to the pedal. The organ is used for solo recitals of early music, and to provide continuo for Baroque and early works along with the church’s Flemish styled Harpsichord.

The organ in Howland Chapel was installed in 1999, and was also purchased through the Organ Clearing House.  The organ was built in 1981 by the Roche Organ Co. for St. Mary’s Episcopal Church in E. Providence, R.I.  After visiting the organ at St. Mary’s, Dr. Michniewicz and Soren Ibsen, then the church’s treasurer and his wife, Nancy, longtime Alto soloist and head of the church’s aesthetic committee, determined that the style, decoration, and proportions actually were a perfect match for the space available in the chancel of Howland Chapel.  The chapel was slightly remodeled and rearranged to accommodate the organ’s footprint.  The organ is used for concerts and recitals, and chapel services throughout the year.  The specification currently includes 11 ranks, including Flutes 8’ and 4’ and a Principal 2’ on the Echo division, (a Sesquialtera and Fife 1’ are under contract for the Echo division by the Odell Organ Co. of East Hampton, CT).  The Great division features a Chimney Flute 8’, Principals 8’ and 4’, and a four rank mixture, with preparations for a Trumpet 8’, and a 2’ Flute.   The Pedal includes a 16’ Subass with preparations for an 8’ Principal and a 16’ Bassoon. 

Hammond B-3

The church also has retained the original Hammond B-3 styled organ which was purchased in 1935 for Howland Chapel. It still functions perfectly. A new Leslie speaker was purchased so that the organ can authentically be used for performances of gospel and contemporary music which are regularly featured by the church’s choirs, Choral Scholars and soloists.

(The Roche Tracker Pipe organ is currently installed at St. Theresa RC Church, Trumbull, CT. The Hammond B-3 is now being used at Sacred Heart University in the Chapel of the Holy Spirit, Fairfield, CT)




March 6, 2011 – 2nd Annual Community Choral Festival
Variations on an Easter Theme, (John Rutter), Galen Tate, Jeffrey Wood, dual organists
Welcome, About Our Program, Rev. Sara D. Smith, John Polo, Constance Chase
Improvisation-Hymn to Joy, Dr. John Michniewicz, organist
Femina Melodia Drummers, Jan Gregory, director
Come, O Come, Our Voices Raise, (Alec Wyton), Frank Martignetti, director; Dr. John Michniewicz, organist
Psalm 150, (Cesar Franck), Dr. Carole Ann Maxwell, director; Galen Tate, organist
Light a Candle, (Marta Keen)-Norma Pfriem Children’s Choir, Delia Motavalli, Anika Vanderwal, duet; Traci Galla, director
Come Away to the Skies (Paul Halley) – United Congregational Church, Bridgeport, Allegra DeVita, soloist, Dr. John Michniewicz, director
Gloria (Guillaume Dufay) -Femina Melodia, Jan Gregory, director
This Little Light of MineRev Sara Smith/Congregation
Message-Community of Hope, Rev. Sara D. Smith, Esq
Singing Hallelujah All Day (Eddie Robinson)-Messiah Baptist Church, Bridgeport, Jonathan Berryman, director
Followers of the Lamb (Shaker Melody, arr. Robert Wetzler) – Stratford Methodist Church, Rev. Meg Williams, director
Verleih uns Frieden (Grant Us PeaceFelix Mendelssohn), Dr. Carolina Flores, director; Jeffrey Wood, organist
Like A Mighty Stream (Moses Hogan), Constance Chase, director; Dr. Joe Utterback, pianist; Dr. John Michniewicz, organist
God of the Ages (George Warren), Dr. Carole Ann Maxwell, director; Jeffrey Wood, organist
Allegro assai Vivace from Sonata I (Felix Mendelssohn), Jeffrey Wood, organist

Photo Galleries:
October 25, 2009 – 8th Annual Pipescreams
October 30, 2010 – 9th Annual Pipescreams
October 30, 2011 – 10th Annual Pipescreams
October 21,2012 – 11th Annual Pipescreams
March 6, 2011 – 2nd Annual Community Choral Festival