The organist who helps spearhead the heralded music program at Christ Episcopal Church in Newton is celebrating his fiftieth year of service in the Episcopal Diocese of Newark. With the exception of two brief periods during his life, S. Gregory Shaffer has spent his entire musical career in the Diocese, which encompasses the northern third of New Jersey.
“The world so deeply needs to hear the Good News of God and I celebrate Greg’s 50 years of faithful work in bringing this Word to many generations in the Diocese of Newark through the strains of glorious music – a gift of love from his heart to ours,” comments The Right Reverend Mark Beckwith, Bishop of the Diocese of Newark.
Shaffer knew from an early age that music had a special hold on him. He started playing the piano at the age of five and was employed as a church accompanist at St. Gabriel’s Episcopal Church in Oak Ridge by the age of eleven.
“As a child, music was everything to me. While my friends played baseball and water skied on Lake Mohawk, I was practicing the piano,” explains Shaffer, who besides childhood piano lessons and only one year of organ instruction, has never received a formal education in music. Shaffer added professional musician to his resume when he was hired at St. Peter’s Episcopal Church in Mount Arlington as organist and choir director at the age of thirteen. He remained there until he completed high school.
Shaffer attended The University of the South in Sewanee, Tennessee, where he embarked on a degree in Chemistry. Upon the completion of his sophomore year, Shaffer’s father, the late Reverend Dr. Harold F. Shaffer, who was the Rector at St. Mary’s Episcopal Church in Sparta at the time, informed his son that the church had a job opening for an organist. Shaffer filled in as the interim organist during his summer break and when the permanent position was offered, he decided to drop out of college and take the job. He never returned to school.
“By the time I was 20 and I was playing in Sparta, music was consuming all of my free time and was something I never wanted to give up,” notes Shaffer who supplemented his income by working as an accompanist for two northern New Jersey ballet schools.
Over the next eight years, Shaffer served as both the organist and choir director at St. Mary’s. He made the move across Sussex County to Christ Episcopal Church Newton in 1981, when he was wooed away by Music Director Joe Mello.
“Greg has been the indispensable backbone of our music program at Christ Church. He is talented, creative and passionate about his art,” remarks Mello. “I can’t think of anyone with whom I would rather work these last 36 years.”
Shaffer left briefly to serve as the organist and choir director at the Church of the Transfiguration in Towaco in 2002. He returned to Christ Church in Newton in 2003 and has been there ever since.
“I'm not aware of any other organist in the diocese with this length of tenure and am proud of my service and contribution to the various churches I have served.”
Shaffer, who has a full-time job as a contracts manager with a New Jersey electronics firm, dedicates at least ten hours per week to his work as a church organist. In his spare time, he plays croquet competitively and founded the Roxbury Croquet Club in 1988. Although he was once ranked 10th in the U.S., he now limits his croquet time to weekend play on his home court.
With over 3,000 pieces in his repertoire, Shaffer is still challenged by performing.
“I find it exhilarating. I just love expressing myself through the music.” Although he plays the piano flawlessly, Shaffer is partial to the organ because of its complex console.
“What attracts me most is the versatility of the instrument. I can get thousands of combinations of sounds out of the organ. Here at Christ Church I have complete freedom to play whatever tempts me and can express it through whatever organ registration feels right.”
“It is breathtaking to consider the countless lives he has touched with his extraordinary talent,” marvels the Reverend Robert Griner, Rector of Christ Church Newton. “What a gift!”
Shaffer accompanies the Senior Choir at Christ Church during the Sunday service at 10:00 a.m. The choir will also perform at the Festival of Nine Lessons & Carols on Sunday, December 17th, at 7:00 p.m. For more information about the music program, the worship service, or any other program at Christ Church Newton, call 973-383-2245 or visit www.christchurchnewton.org.