By Brian Blackwell, Message Staff Writer
ALTO (LBM) – Every Sunday morning for 70 years, Nancy Johnston has been the heart and soul of the music humming from the worship center at Alto Baptist Church.
Since 1948, Johnston has played hymns like “The Old Rugged Cross” on the piano and organ during worship services for the north Louisiana congregation. Many of those she has inspired during her time at the church gathered inside the Alto Baptist worship center Feb. 11 to celebrate this milestone of her many years of service.
The special service featured a time for guests to share a personal story, the presentation of gifts and a luncheon fellowship. True to her humble attitude, Johnston demurred regarding the attention, saying she preferred attention be paid to others.
“I didn’t want to be honored but I appreciated their having it done for me,” said Johnston.
She is the mother-in-law of U.S. Rep. Ralph Abraham, who is a member of Alto Baptist and worships there when he is not in the nation’s capital.
“It was a special day to see so many of my former students come back. People ask me if I plan on retiring and I say, ‘Why retire?’ It’s been a blessing all these years to have known and taught so many people.”
Johnston began playing the piano in the 10th grade upon the urging of her Sunday school teacher, and for the following few years she took lessons to improve her musical talent. However, it was not long before she transitioned from music student to piano teacher, she told the Baptist Message. In her final year of high school, her piano teacher offered Johnston the opportunity to take charge of instructing some of her students.
“I said, ‘Do you think I can do it?’ and she said, “Yes,” Johnston recalled. “She told me to make sure I keep up with their time and that they learn their notes. I’ve been teaching ever since.”
Johnston has taught so many students that she has lost count of the exact number, but she has enjoyed seeing them progress and go out into the world to sometimes even teach other students.
One of those is Kim Weed, who took piano lessons and attended Alto Baptist with Johnston. Weed said Johnston’s passion for investing in the lives of others is contagious.
“Mrs. Nancy was so encouraging when I first started playing, and still inspires others today,” Weed said. “She has a heart for music and wants to pass that love on to others.”
Alan Miller, pastor of Alto Baptist for six years, said Johnston is the longest living member of the church and represents what the congregation is about.
“The heart of worship in our church has been Mrs. Nancy all these years,” Miller said. “She loves her Lord with everything she has and loves Alto Baptist Church. That church is her heart. And she loves the Alto community.
“This has been a great church for me to pastor and a lot of that is because of Mrs. Nancy,” he continued. “She has so much compassion and love that rubs off on others she meets.”