I was in the 6th grade when my daddy summoned me out of Sunday School class one Sunday. I thought I was in trouble! Waiting out in the hallway was Bro. Dewitt Pickering, the minister of music at my church, and he said he needed a favor. The main pianist had called in sick and he needed me to play the piano that morning in church. Then I knew I was in trouble! But my daddy and Bro. Pickering assured me that I could do it and accompanied me to the choir room while I looked over the hymns for the day. Fortunately these were hymns I already knew so I felt more confident. I was eleven years old at the time.
Not long after that Bro. Pickering pulled me and two other girls aside to ask us if we’d be willing to sing a trio – 3-part harmony. We were afraid we couldn’t do it. But Bro. Pickering rehearsed us on a hymn—listening to our voices to see who would be best to sing what part. There was a definite soprano voice and a definite alto voice, and that left me to sing some kind of second soprano part. He started us out on a hymn “My Jesus I Love Thee” and had me sing the tenor part up an octave. We sang on a Sunday night, scared to death, but a lot more confident. Soon he gave us harder music with real 3-part harmony and I had to pick out the middle part. He was so patient and helped all three of us listen and blend and sing well together. We sang in this trio until we all went away to college. And I was the church pianist most of my high school years.
Years later I married Dennis, a seminary student studying church music, and in his first church there were three 6th grade girls who could sing really well together. I taught them “My Jesus I Love Thee” in 3-part harmony and later progressed to more difficult music. Even after we left that church those three girls continued to sing together for several years. Sometime after that I received a letter from one of the little girls who was all grown up and she said how much those days of learning to sing had meant to her. She was now leading children’s music in her own church. That made me feel good, of course, but also compelled me to find the source of all of this inspiration—Dewitt Pickering. I located him in Mississippi and wrote him a letter telling him how much I appreciated his ministry to me. I also included the fact that I had passed along his ministry to others. I mentioned that I was writing and producing music for the church and that his relatively brief ministry to me at a crucial age was a large part of why I was involved in writing music. He wrote me back and said, “I’ve been using your music for years with my choirs but since your name has changed I never realized you and that little 6th grade girl were the same person.” I truly believe that of Bro. Pickering hadn’t asked me to serve in a significant musical position when I was 11 years old I never would have progressed into being a music leader in churches throughout the years—nor would I have been involved in writing and producing music for churches for the last 30 years.
Dewitt Pickering died at the age of 88 a few weeks ago, and I was privileged to speak and sing at his funeral. It was an honor to know such a man.
I’m sure that Dewitt Pickering thought throughout the years that his ministry wasn’t significant, but I am here to testify that I am but one person whose life has been changed by the servant spirit of this man. My guess is that some of you worship leader/minister of music get discouraged from time to time because your student choirs aren’t huge and there’s no amount of work you can do that will build up the numbers among your youth. So…I would encourage you to find one…or two…or a trio of students who are interested in making music as ministry. Mentor them, encourage them, challenge them…and then let God bless your work. You never know which 6th grade girl or 8th grade boy will grow and learn under your guidance…and then come back years later reporting what God has done in his or her life because you were a faithful servant.
Dennis and Nan Allen have been writing Christian musicals, anthems, collections and dramatic productions for over 30 years. They have over 1200 music and drama projects published with multiple companies such as Lifeway Worship Music, Brentwood/Benson Music, Hal Leonard, and many others. Their music for adult choirs, student choirs and children’s choirs has sold close to 3 million copies to date.
They also own a self-publishing company, Allen House Productions, which produces a variety of product for the church and Christian schools. They have received multiple nominations and are 3-time winners of the GMA Dove Awards for Musical of the Year. Nan has also written four books, including two Christian fiction works, a study of Christian lyrics entitled “The Words We Sing” and a Christmas gift book entitled “Yuletide Blessings.” They lead workshops and clinics across the nation, specializing in the areas of worship, music ministry, youth choirs, and drama. Dennis serves as Asst. Prof. of Worship and Church Music at Truett-McConnell College in Cleveland, Georgia. Nan is also currently working on a second degree in English/Creative Writing and will begin teaching at Truett-McConnell College in the fall of 2015.