When she graduates from Perkins in May with her Master of Sacred Music (MSM) degree, Allison Shutt hopes to find a job as a director of Music Ministry Outreach.
Never mind that the job title hasn’t been invented yet.
Shutt believes music can bring the community into churches, and help churches reach people in the community. She’s tried it herself, with some success.
She grew up attending Davidson United Methodist in Davidson, N.C. Faith was important in her household, and she still enjoys frequent theological discussions with her mom and dad.
“I’ve always had an interest in theology,” she said. “I remember in eighth grade, I wanted to start a Bible study group but none of my friends were interested. Maybe because we were in eighth grade!”
Still, Shutt never considered ministry as a career until she was an undergraduate. She interned at Davidson UMC in the youth department while attending Furman University as a music major.
“That degree program was gearing me toward a career as a band director,” she said. “I knew I didn’t want to just be a band director but didn’t know what I wanted to do.” Her primary instrument was the saxophone, which didn’t prepare her to work in a church.
At Davidson, however, colleagues encouraged her to consider ministry. (One of them, Kevin Turner, later became the first graduate of Perkins’s Doctor of Pastoral Music program.) The internship turned into a job after graduation.
“That’s when the call began to ministry began forming within me,” she said.
At Davidson, she experimented with ways to create bridges between the church and the community through music. She reached out to nearby Hinds Feet Farm in Huntersville, N. C., a day and residential program for adults with traumatic brain injuries.
“I called to see if they had any musical activities, and they told me they’d love to have one,” she said. She started a handbell choir for adults with brain injuries. Shutt found songbooks for people who don’t read music – songs with lyrics with words circled where each player needs to ring the bell, and pieces using a numbered, color-coded system. The group concluded with a concert.
“I’ve always had a passion for people with disabilities,” she said. “I’d really love to do something that allows people to come into the doors of the church.”
Music, Shutt believes, has much untapped potential for reaching many different groups.
“I love the ability of music to advocate and be that neutralizing ground,” she said. “It allows people who aren’t as comfortable coming into a church to be comfortable and be a part of the church.”
While at Davidson, Shutt learned of Perkins’s MSM program through Turner. She liked the way Perkins’s MSM program melds music and theology.
“I didn’t want just one or other,” she said. “I wanted to look at music through a theological lens and bring musical training to the theological classroom as well. Perkins was that perfect fit of allowing both disciplines come together. I get my music education from Meadows and my theological education from Perkins.”
At Perkins, she’s concentrating in choral conducting while pursuing ordination in the United Methodist Church as a deacon. Before the pandemic, she was a member of the Seminary Singers, where she enjoyed planning and leading worship services, and also sang with the Meadows Chamber Singers. This year, she’s studying remotely, from her home in Davidson.
Shutt isn’t certain what kind of job she’ll find when she graduates. But she looks forward to the adventure.
“I’m not sure if I’ll end up in a church, going into the community, or in the community, going into the church,” she said. “Either way, I’m looking forward to seeing what God has in store for me.”