My Story of Song and Music
Oh sing to the Lord a new song; sing to the Lord, all the earth! Sing to the Lord, bless his name; tell of his salvation from day to day. Declare his glory among the nations, his marvelous works among all the peoples! For great is the Lord, and greatly to be praised. Psalm 96:1-4a NIV
My name is Allen Schellenberg and I am so pleased to tell my story of song and music. What an amazing journey God has given
me serving Him in music ministry. Looking back, I can see the many ways how God led me, His guiding. My prayer, in writing this story, is that it will inspire someone else to give his/her talents to God for his service. I would never trade these opportunities given me for anything. May God bless and encourage you as you trust Him to leads you.
Childhood Influence 1938-1943
My father loved to play his autoharp and in so doing, I and my siblings crowded around him, listening to him play. What was even more pleasing was that when my mother would join him as they sang and played making heavenly music together. Here we received an early taste of music. Perhaps, that early taste of song and music was instrumental to my love for music. Certainly, God was stirring my heart in preparation for future service.
After my father, through a farming accident, was suddenly taken away from us, the music and songs stopped. My mother, now a widow with five children to care for, the youngest only six months old, struggled through eight years of famine, sadness, hardships, and angst. God kept her strong, teaching us to pray and sing. God bless her!
A new song came to her when a handsome gentleman came calling. Now there was hope and cheer in her song again. God had heard her cry and answered as only He could. They married, and with mixed feelings we moved away from the only home I had ever known. I was twelve, going on thirteen, and very shy. Changes were never easy for me, but God certainly worked it all out for our good.
When I was fifteen or sixteen years of age, and after much coaxing and prodding, I joined my older siblings as we rumbled off to my first choir practice at Eigenhof where we attended church. Here I was introduced to singing four-part harmony, which broadened my love for music.
I also had opportunity to learn how to play the mandolin and guitar which became another tool for ministry until years later when due to my carpal tunnel disease, I was unable to play; I really missed it.
My younger brother, Steven, and I started to sing duets and were called on many occasions to sing at our home church, yugentverine (evening services), funerals, and weddings. God blessed us as we grew in faith and song.
Life was changing for me: A young lady of special interest to me, was becoming more and more important to me and in due time we married. God was changing me, and circumstances moved us to the big city of Winnipeg, there to pursue an employment opportunity. God, however, had much more than a job in mind for me.
The church in Winnipeg
We started attending the “Gospel Mennonite Church” on Nassau Street in late 1959, where we later became members. The church was in its early stages, shepherded by Reverend B.W. Sawatsky. Here my shyness was keeping me from becoming involved in the church. Our Pastor, however, having heard or told that my brother Steven and I were singing duets together and challenged me to sing in the church choir. I was to be the only tenor; I stubbornly refused. I was terrified. Meeting people I had never met before was one thing, but a greater fear was being the only tenor in the choir. My Pastor, however, continued to corner me at every opportunity, calling me on what he referred to as my “musical giftedness”. I fought it; I resented his constant pushing, but in time I relented. Because the church was young, it needed its able members to help out in areas of service they were gifted in. Even in its early existence, the church set up instructors to teach piano and voice in the church basement, offering to pay two dollars per lesson as an incentive to willing participants. Our pastor loved music and did all he could to get gifted people to improve their God-given talents...also to broaden their almost nonexistence musical/singing congregation. I took two or three years of voice lessons, got involved in choir, and consented to lead the Sunday school in singing and loved it. I am forever grateful for Pastor Sawatsky’s persistence. Had he left me alone, I probably would have missed the joys; the many rich blessings God had in mind for me. Thank you!
The Gospel Message
My brother Steve and his wife also attended the Gospel Mennonite Church where he joined me in the tenor section of the choir. God was at work. We were again singing duets together; Rosella Sawatsky was willing to play piano accompaniment for us. Not long thereafter we were contacted by Rev. John D. Friesen, director, and speaker of the Low German Gospel Message Radio broadcast. The program was airing weekly and were constantly looking for German singing groups to record suitable songs to use on these radio broadcasts. We gladly accepted the invitation and recorded many suitable songs for the broadcast. Two LP records came out of this, managed by The Gospel Message radio team. The German record, “Mein Gott und Ich”, came first, and later an English record titled “Shepherd of Love”. Both records were produced because of the many requests from radio broadcast listeners who wished to have these recordings to enjoy in their homes. The sale of these records was also providing extra income for the radio broadcast. God blessed this ministry. To Him be the Glory!
Morrow Gospel Church
The Gospel Mennonite Church was growing rapidly and needed to look for more space. After several “Brotherhood” meetings, it was decided to start a sister church in the St. Vital area. My family decided to be part of this new endeavor because we already lived in St. Vital. Being a carpenter by trade I readily volunteered my time helping with the build. We were an excited group of volunteers and the building quickly took shape. It was a very hectic time in my life, but we were so excited to be part of this new church family forming the “Morrow Gospel Church”.
It wasn’t long that our congregation wanted to start up an adult choir. I was asked to be their choir director, but with no experience, I was hesitant. God nudged me. I did have interest, so after thinking about it I consented. A pianist was already in place so we started. God blessed us here. The experiences here taught me many things. I knew that God was leading, He gave me incredible joy serving Him in this His chosen ministry. I served here until 1973, when in June we moved to Morden Manitoba, not knowing what God had in mind for us there.
Glencross Mennonite Church
We had full intention to help out at the Morden EMM Church in some way, but they already had a choir director, so how could I help?
A couple of men from the Glencross Church approached me, asking me if I would come and direct their choir. The Glencross church had recently lost their choir director through a drowning accident, and when they told me that their pastor was trying to hold the choir together, I consented to come and see their situation in person. I was surprised to find thirty or more choir members already on stage. I was impressed, but also felt sorry for the Pastor who was trying his best to lead the group. It was clear that he was meant to be their pastor, not their choir director. I agreed to help out, at least until the Christmas program was over. In the end, I stayed until summer.
That fall we decided to make Glencross Mennonite Church also our home church. I loved the choir; our family loved it here as well. It was clear to us that God was leading us to this church congregation.
God opened amazing doors, blessing me with 40 great years of music ministry, leading the congregation in worship singing. I remember the great pleasure I had hearing the congregation sing … I mean, we sang like no other church I had ever heard. I do miss that kind of singing very much. I was given many opportunities to sing solos here, sing at many funerals and wedding, and served many years as their music director. I might also mention being part of the first formation of the Glencross Male Quartet where two of its original members are still singing in it today.
Many more things could be said here, but suffice it to say that words cannot express my gratitude to God for choosing me to serve Him in music. A huge thank you also to the Glencross Mennonite
Church for giving me the pleasure to serve there those many wonderful years. They were the best, the most amazing years of service opportunities given me; certainly the most rewarding. God is so good. To Him be all the glory.
Allen Schellenberg is a member of Glencross Mennonite Church, Manitoba
______________________________ This article was originally published in The EMMC Recorder Vol 59, No. 4