Gordon Ahlquist plans to sleep in Sunday morning and then eat breakfast with his wife at the Original Pancake House. It might not sound all that extraordinary, but he's been waiting 52 years to spend a Sunday morning like that.

Ahlquist, 87, retired last weekend as organist at First Covenant Church, the red brick building that sits across the street from the Metrodome in downtown Minneapolis. The church wanted him to leave with a farewell organ concert, but he insisted on having a hymn-sing-along instead.

"That's my signature, to make the hymns special," he said.

Not to take anything away from the church choirs he has accompanied over five-plus decades, "but I think the singing of hymns is the most important part of church music," he said.

His tenure at the church actually goes back well beyond 52 years. He was 17 when he started taking organ lessons. He fell in love with the instrument, but had trouble finding a place to practice.

"You could rent practice time at McPhail for 35 cents an hour," he said. "That doesn't sound like much now, but it was a lot of money then. The church [where his family belonged] said I could practice for free if I agreed to play for the Sunday school. So I did."

After majoring in business at Augsburg College and serving as a cryptographer in World War II, he returned to the Twin Cities and worked as a financial analyst. He never gave up the organ, however, filling in at churches around town until he got the call from First Covenant.

He retired from his day job 25 years ago, but kept plenty busy. "We had midweek services on Thursday nights and choir practice on Wednesday nights and then I had to practice for Sundays."

He'll keep attending First Covenant, but not every Sunday. Besides pancakes, he's got other things on his agenda.

"There are so many other churches I want to visit, so many other church organists I want to hear," he said. "That's the one bad thing about being a church organist: You can't go hear other church organists because you're working the same time they are."

Road to recovery

Mayflower Congregational Church in south Minneapolis is hosting Recovery Sunday this weekend, the fifth year for the program aimed at people who are addicted or in recovery and their family members.

Former Rep. Jim Ramstad, the chief cosponsor of the Mental Health and Addiction Treatment Parity Act passed by Congress in 2008, will be guest preacher at Sunday's 8:30 and 11 a.m. services. Between services, there will be a 9:45 a.m. educational program, From Shame to Grace: Understanding and Healing from Sexual Addiction, led by hospice chaplain David Hottinger.

Incomplete pass

In 2004, the United Church of Christ (UCC) tried to run an ad during the Super Bowl, but CBS wouldn't accept religious advertising. So, was the church surprised that CBS has agreed to sell time to the Christian-oriented group Focus on the Family this year?

Not at all, said J. Bennett Guess, the UCC's director of communications. In fact, he revealed earlier this week that CBS approached the church and said that, what with the recession and all, now it would be glad to run its ad. (CBS reports selling seven fewer ads for this year's game than NBC sold last year.)

But finances have been tight in the religious world, too, and the UCC no longer can afford to pay $2.5 million for a 30-second spot.

Jeff Strickler • 612-673-7392