Dulcimers become widow's instrument for ministry

by Gayla Holt Sullivan/Southern Baptist TEXAN, posted Monday, July 02, 2018 (19 days ago)

KENNARD, Texas (BP) -- Margaret and Jerry Wright trekked to the Arkansas Ozarks town of Mountain View in July 1994 to explore Blanchard Springs Caverns, a nearby cave.

Or so they thought.

Checking in at a campsite, they learned that folk music "jam sessions" took place each evening at the Ozark Folk Center and in front of the Stone County Courthouse on the Mountain View town square. Margaret was intrigued by "real people playing real instruments with down-home, homespun character," which sparked interest in both Margaret and Jerry.

Driving a short distance each evening to hear the music, they passed a little dulcimer shop. On their last day in town, they decided to stop.

Inside the store, Margaret, a penny pincher at heart, said to her husband, "This is fun, but we ain't buying no dulcimer!"

Jerry, a woodworker, went straight to the back of the store where dulcimers were being crafted, intrigued by the detail that went into making each one.

Lynn McSpadden, owner of The Dulcimer Shop, handed Margaret a dulcimer and asked if she wanted to try it. A little crowd gathered around as Margaret began to play the four-stringed instrument for the first time. On another instrument, McSpadden played a harmony with her.

"Playing came naturally to me," Margaret recounted.

The store accepted their MasterCard payment, and Jerry proudly carried Margaret's first dulcimer out of the store.

What began that day in Mountain View became a passion shared by the entire family. For the next 22 years, Jerry crafted nearly 40 dulcimers and was gifted at playing a guitar-like instrument called a pickin' stick. The Wrights' teenage sons also began to play -- Hollis took up the autoharp and Lloyd learned the dulcimer -- something they still enjoy today.

In March 2016, Jerry died after a two-year struggle with cancer. Margaret recalls that the years caring for Jerry had been demanding. The Wrights had been married for over 40 years.

Margaret had been widowed for a year when she began to realize she had time on her hands and wanted a way to use it and her talents. But she was unsure of what to do.

The answer came to her while playing dominoes at her East Texas home church, First Baptist in Kennard. During the game, Margaret impulsively blurted out, "I've got all these dulcimers. Would anyone want to learn how to play?"

Before Margaret knew it, someone had started a signup sheet, and six people took her up on the offer. What began as an impromptu thought has become Margaret's ministry.

A group of 12, spanning from the sixth grade to age 84, began meeting on Monday afternoons last April; their dulcimer group has since reached out to people who would not normally be outgoing or involved in ministry.

The group, known as The Pineywood Dulcimers (and sometimes as "The Hashbrowns"), has performed in churches, at funerals and in nursing homes and retirement centers. In 2016, Margaret taught children to play the dulcimer during Vacation Bible School. "It was a big hit," said Glenn Faris, First Baptist's former pastor.

Faris added, "I believe that one way Margaret overcame grief is that she was able to share with others one of the special bonds she had with Jerry -- music. She took action and refused to allow grief to consume her."

Two in the dulcimer group, a mother and son, both made decisions for Christ last September. Faris noted that one reason they became involved in the church was because of Margaret's dulcimer ministry, which has "helped people get over their shyness" and become involved in other ministries.

The Wrights did explore the cave on their last day in the Ozarks in 1994. But God had more in mind through their unplanned stop at a roadside dulcimer shop.

Margaret never envisioned the instrument becoming a ministry. "But," she said, "God gave me a gift to be able to use with others."

Gayla Holt Sullivan is a communications assistant with the Southern Baptist TEXAN (www.texanonline.net), newsjournal of the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention.
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