Beaufort News

Only in Beaufort: Married church organists hit all the right notes

John and Sarah Stender sit at the organ at the Parish Church of St. Helena on Oct. 8, 2015.
John and Sarah Stender sit at the organ at the Parish Church of St. Helena on Oct. 8, 2015. Special to The Island Packet and

The Parish Church of St. Helena and The Baptist Church of Beaufort sit across the street from one another, a geographic closeness that gives rise to a unique set of issues.

Who gets to use the parking lot?

Whose steeple is higher?

Who has the better organist?

Answer that last one and you could spark a family feud.

John Stender is the Parish Church music director and organist.

His wife, Sarah, is assistant music director and organist at The Baptist Church of Beaufort.

"For two professional musicians to be working music jobs in the same city is a rare thing, let alone in such a small community," Sarah said recently. "We certainly never thought that we would be working right across the street from each other."

How that arrangement came to be is one that might be best explained by, well, the hand of a higher power.

Within weeks of John's interview for the job at the Parish Church, Sarah was interviewing at the Baptist Church.

"Doors were opening without us even trying and we knew that there was a greater power at work than our own," said Sarah.

The couple met in 2013 at the University of Indiana's Jacobs School of Music.

John was pursuing his Masters of Music with emphasis on organ and sacred music.

Sarah was working toward her Masters of music in harpsichord.

You might think they were destined to meet in a class with strings swelling and trumpets blaring.

Not exactly.

They were actually setup by mutual friends in a local sports pub.

Since then, the pair has always been in tune.

Playing the organ at the Parish Church has been relatively easy for John, who grew up in the Lutheran faith and studied to become a well-rounded church musician most at home spiritually and musically while leading song.

For Sarah, raised in the Baptist faith, the transition from harpsichord to organ was a bit more difficult.

"We have very different services on a weekly basis with often quite different musical offerings, but, at the end of the day, we are still doing the same thing and that is truly amazing," said John.

They often talk shop at home.

"We love comparing notes," said Sarah. "We help each other with musical ideas and organ registrations, practice playing music for each other, discuss or sometimes even argue musical and stylistic choices in our playing, talk through the joys and struggles and always try to support each other."

Thankfully, musical notes have no denomination.

You're likely to hear good organ work from either of the Stenders at either church.

Together and separately, the two are making beautiful music.

Ryan Copeland is a Beaufort native. He can be reached at