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Woman and gospel group share God's message in song

March 08, 2004|by MARLO BARNHART

marlob@herald-mail.com

Looking back on her earliest childhood memories, Jenny Wilt sees that her life has been defined by her love of gospel music and her faith in God.

"Since my father was a minister, I played piano at his church - Wilson Chapel - many times when I was growing up," Wilt said.

Wilt took up the piano when she was about 10 years old after a brief flirtation with the accordion.

"I took accordion lessons for a while but switched to piano because the adult accordion was too heavy for me," she said.

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Her mom and dad sang, as did Wilt's entire family growing up. She and her older sister, Anna Needy, went to Reeder's Nursing Home in Boonsboro to sing for the residents there long before anybody was in a group.

"I was working as a clerk then," Wilt said. "When I met my husband, Mike, I was working at Melart's in the Valley Mall."

Anna Needy and her husband got the Wilts started in prison ministries, something they still do.

"I got a letter from an inmate at the Washington County Detention Center that moved me to tears," Wilt said. "The man said our songs were awesome and that he could feel God's presence."

Now Jenny is part of By Faith Ministries, a gospel singing group that travels around the Tri-State area sharing its message in song.

"I've been in groups before," Wilt said, acknowledging that she has woven the tapestry of her life in large measure through her religious faith and passion for music. She's been singing in groups for 23 years, one year longer than her marriage.

The first group she was in was aptly named The New Beginning. It was during that period that she met her now husband, who played guitar and loved music - the rock and country varieties.

After dating for more than a year, they had their own new beginning, marrying in 1981. At that time, Mike Wilt only knew two gospel songs, "The Old Rugged Cross" and "Amazing Grace," but that didn't stop them from pursuing their joint love of music.

The Melodies of Praise formed in 1986 and continued as a family affair until 2002. The Wilts included their son, Josh, from the time he was 4 years old. Now 21, he grew up in the group and joined his parents at hundreds of singing engagements over the years.

"I was pregnant with Josh when we were going to the prisons south of Hagerstown to minister in music," Wilt said. "I always told him he was nearly born behind bars."

In one of those visits, the Wilts met an inmate who told them his wife also was having a baby. The man thanked them for caring enough about him and the other prisoners to bring their ministry behind bars, she recalled.

"Not long ago, that same man saw Mike in a store, recognized him and told him that he had never forgotten our kindnesses to him," Wilt said.

There also have been some memorable and humorous experiences over the years, one of which still brings a twinkle to Wilt's eye.

"We were booked to sing at a wedding once and while we were practicing, the couple had a fight outside in the parking lot," Wilt said. "There never was a wedding that day."

About two years ago, the Wilts knew God had a change planned for their ministry and thus, By Faith Ministries was created.

Debbie Miller is the third member of the new group. Miller, and Mike and Jenny Wilt, have set their priority as ministering to God's forgotten people - prisoners, nursing home patients and others who feel that no one cares.

Never paid, the group usually recoups travel and meal expenses through freewill offerings taken at the churches where they sing.

"We care because Jesus cares. That is our message," Wilt said.

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