where did it begin
May 1, 2024

Where Did It Begin?

Photo Credit: Steven Herppich Photography

At different points during this year we will be reflecting on the relationship between work and worship. For many of us reading these blogs, our work is connected to the church and possibly through the ministry of music. In this blog, retired minister of music, Roger Wayne Hicks, reflects on the journey he took in following the call to become a minister of music and the role his mother played—this is particularly poignant as we approach mother’s day in the United States and Canada. To all our readers, who like Roger have dedicated their lives to ministry and are now retired or semi-retired, we say thank you for your faithful service. —Rev. Joyce Borger, editor

Where did your Christian ministry journey begin? Perhaps through a series of life events, you experienced a tug in your heart that seemed to be more than a human emotion, a tug that, through prayer and the affirmation of the church, you felt was God’s special call upon your life. You are now able to look back and see how the pieces began to fit together resulting in a divine call to service in the Church. Perhaps you felt the call to ministry through the unique influence of a mentor or other very special person in your life.

“Mom, I want to learn to play the piano,” I blurted out to my mother one day. Occupied with her kitchen chores, Mom looked up at me, and without delay, took off her apron, took me by my hand, and the two of us headed into the living room where the large upright piano stood. My mother, responding in love for her son, and aware of a young child’s short attention span, seized the moment and engaged with her son’s expressed desire. My introduction to playing the piano began with learning where middle C is on the piano keyboard. I firmly believe that the walk with my mother from our kitchen to the living room was the start of my church music ministry journeya journey that I believe was instigated and directed by God.

Life for me drastically changed when I was in second grade. My father received a job promotion which necessitated a move from the small village in Ohio to the city of New Castle, Pennsylvania. Although there was some trauma for me in this move, it did enable me to start receiving professional piano lessons.

Mom and I spent a lot of time together. My father was away from home each day working, and my brother, as a high school senior, was occupied with doing his high school things andworking at a local Gulf gas station. Some of my father’s work duties called for him to travel and be away from home for a week at a time. So, Mom and I got to spend good, quality time together.

But then came the first week of March 1948, the last week of my mother’s life. She went into the hospital at the beginning of the week and passed away on the following Sunday. Since children were not permitted to visit hospitals in those days, I did not get to see Mom after the ambulance transported her to the hospital. This was just eighteen months following our family’s move from Ohio to Pennsylvania. Why did she have to die so young? Mom was only forty seven. I was not quite ten years old when Mom died. But with the support, love and care of my brothers, sisters, and father, my childhood world continued to be one of happiness, security, and new adventures.

Soon after Mom’s passing, I started to attend church with my sister. The new church environment offered me new spiritual vistas which provided me with a greater understanding of personal Christian faith. It was not very long before my father met a wonderful, church-going Christian woman whom he married.

Sarah, my new stepmom, had been a very active church member for many years. As I became a part of her church family, they provided me with spiritual challenges and growth. I was one step further along my spiritual journey that would ultimately lead to a life-long calling to a church-based music ministry career. As a teenager in the church, I was encouraged in the use of my developing talents in music leadership. Mom would have been so very delighted and proud of her son and thankful for the church’s mentoring. 

Fast forward past high school graduation and into my college years. Were these actually tears coming out of my eyes in Church Music History class? This college freshman was quite emotionally and spiritually moved as he listened to the recording and read the English translation of a sacred Latin choral and orchestral composition. As a college freshman, I was discovering a new world of God-honoring musical art.

This newly discovered music world continued to expand throughout the four undergraduate college years, thanks to the dedicated professors who patiently mentored their unlearned, un-sophisticated students. Even as my music horizons continued to expand, I am thankful that my appreciation of the hymns, songs and choruses of my teenage years did not decline. I was discovering the delights of an expanded music world without destroying my appreciation and use of previous forms of musical expression.

“Can you believe it? I’m going to be singing with the New York Philharmonic Orchestra!  I shared with Sarah and Dad. Of course, my wife, Jean, had already heard all about it. Jean and I were now living a life I could not have imagined in Princeton, New Jersey. I was a grad student and Jean was a staff member of Westminster Choir College. As a member of Westminster Symphonic Choir, I was privileged to sing with major orchestras, under the leadership of world-renowned conductors. God was greatly blessing this kid that had moved from alongside the railroad tracks to the big city a couple decades earlier.

At our Westminster graduation ceremony, we sang:

O Jesus, I have promised to serve Thee to the end; 
Be Thou forever near me, my Master and my Friend; 
I shall not fear the battle if Thou art by my side, 
Nor wander from the pathway if Thou wilt be my guide. 

O Jesus, Thou hast promised to all who follow Thee,
That where Thou art in glory there shall Thy servant be; 
And, Jesus, I have promised to serve Thee to the end; 
O give me grace to follow, my Master and my Friend. 

—John Ernest Bode, Public Domain

My Master, Jesus, has provided that grace to follow him in over sixty years of church music ministry,a ministry of making his praise glorious through the art of music, a ministry that began one winter day in Ohio, when my mother took the time to take off her apron and lead her preschooler son to the piano. But, why did Mom have to die when I was a little less than ten years of age? As I reflect on the rest of my life’s story with its God-directed musical adventure, I more easily understand, at least in part. I honor Mom today in thanking her for taking off her apron and leading me to the piano. This was a loving act by my mother that jump-started my Christian ministry careerall of which has been in the fore-knowledge of our great wonder-working God.

As you reflect upon your unique path to Christian ministry you will most likely recall people and events which have been part of the fore-knowledge of your ministry designer. Pause for a moment and give God thanks for these people. If they are still living let them know how God used them in your life.

Roger Wayne Hicks, a mostly-retired minister of music, is the author of numerous published articles on church music and church leadership including “To A Faithful Choir Member” in Reformed Worship 119, March 2016. He has also authored four books: Adventure in Music Ministry (Pleasant Word, 2009); Learning More About God Through Scripture and Christian Hymns (Redemption Press, 2020); Making God’s Praise Glorious! (WestBow Press, 2021); and Spiritual Surprises! – Discovering the Spiritual Surprises Found in Hymns (Self published, 2022). Roger and wife, Jean, make their home in Green Valley, Arizona and are members of Valley Presbyterian Church. He can be contacted at