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Music Makers

She Lifts Up Her Voice

by Linda D. Johnson

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Eighteen-year-old Meg Wiltshire stood at the front of a Washington, D.C., Salvation Army church and began singing 'There Is a Fountain.' Suddenly, an older Army officer, Brigadier Victor Wilson, shouted, 'Glory!'

'My voice broke, and I began to weep,' Meg says. As she continued to sing, people moved forward quietly to kneel and pray.

'There was no sermon that day,' Meg says.

Margaret "Meg" Wiltshire-Davis was raised in the 1960s in the D.C. area, where her parents, Majors Allan and Marjorie Wiltshire, served for a total of 16 years. Meg's dad played cornet in the National Capital Band. At age 6 or 7, Meg started piano lessons; later, she played cornet and flugel horn. And she always participated in kids' "singing companies." The family, including her brother and two sisters, would often perform together; one such program was called "The Romance of Christmas." But Meg never thought of herself as a singer.

"When you're in The Salvation Army, you just sing," she says. It was her outgoing brother, Allan, she thought of as the star of the family.

"He had the personality and incredible talent," she says.

In college, Meg majored in music education at The Catholic University of America, where her prime instrument was piano, not voice. But in her third year, she took a voice class and followed up with voice lessons her senior year, when she performed a solo as part of Handel's "Messiah." After graduation, she performed in the university's summer opera company. But to this day, she doesn't consider herself a great singer.

"I know, technically, I'm not as good as others I've heard," she says. "But God does things through me, I think. It's the Spirit; it's not me."

'Urging in my heart'

Meg has been walking with the Spirit as long as she has been involved with music, but she can't remember a distinct "salvation moment."

"There was just this urging in my heart, from the time I was about 6 years old, to please God," she says.

But she did balk when God called her, at age 17, to be a Salvation Army officer.

"I thought officership was not for me," she says. "It was too hard. I saw my parents and what they had to do."

After college, Meg became a music teacher at Catholic girls' schools in the D.C. area and was a paid church soloist.

"I thought, 'I'll teach for a while,' " Meg remembers. "I kept pushing it [the call] back," she says.

Critical decisions

Then, at a Salvation Army "Rally Day" at her church, the Sherman Avenue Corps, Meg noticed an officer she had never seen before, David Davis.

"Who in the world is this handsome officer person?" she said to herself. Soon they started to date. When they fell in love, Meg had a decision to make. In The Salvation Army, married couples must serve together as officers.

Meg still wasn't ready for that. She remembers that Majors Fred and Silvia Ruth, divisional leaders at the time, provided meaningful support as Meg and David made a difficult decision. Fred asked Meg, "What about officership?"

"I told him, 'I love my music. I'm called to music, and if I become an officer, I'm afraid I won't be allowed to sing.' "

David decided, for Meg's sake, to resign as an officer. Fred Ruth presided at their wedding, and Meg's dad performed the ceremony. David and Meg, living in New York City, both took jobs with The Salvation Army.

"David was very patient with me," Meg says. "He knew in his heart that one day we would be officers."

For a time, Meg worked at USA Eastern Territorial Headquarters in West Nyack, N.Y. One of those positions was in the Evangelism Department, where she worked for Majors Rex and Kay Worthy.

"In retrospect, I was coming home to my true calling-reaching people for salvation," Meg says.

"Her heart for mission was evident," says Rex Worthy, now retired.

Nine years after Meg and David married, the Davis family, including daughter Brittany, attended the Army's Labor Day Camp Meetings.

"I felt the Spirit move again in the morning meeting," Meg says. "When He moves, He moves." She went forward to the altar to surrender her life to God as a Salvation Army officer.

David wasn't in that meeting, but someone ran to get him.

Unfounded fear

While her husband kept working for the Army, Meg entered its School for Officer Training in 1996. That same year, she was invited to sing at an Army event in Niagara Falls. The next November, while still in training, Cadet Meg was summoned to London to sing for General Paul Rader at Westminster Central Hall.

"I was scared to death," Meg says. But, she realized, "They [Army leaders] proved me wrong in my fear that I would never sing."

When Meg finished training, David was re-accepted as an officer. Their first appointment together was as corps officers [pastors] of the Army's Brooklyn Brownsville Corps, which is in a tough neighborhood.

"At first, I was fearful for the kids," says Meg. At the time, the couple's two daughters, Brittany and Alexa, were 7 and 2. She gave her concern to the Lord.

"He took that fear away from me," she says. "I realized that He really is Immanuel, 'God with me.' When He calls you to do something, He will protect you."

Many at the corps were living in difficult situations, she says. "But they were beautiful, kind, loving people."

"It wasn't all easy," Meg says. "It was just real. When they hurt, we hurt."

A 'shocker'

Both Meg and David loved their five years in Brooklyn; they never thought about leaving. So they were stunned when the Army appointed them divisional youth leaders for the Eastern Pennyslvania & Delaware (Pendel) Division.

"That was a shocker of shockers," Meg says. The new job was "over-whelming" in its responsibilities, which included running a summer program at Camp Ladore in Waymart, Pa.

One of Meg's responsibilities was running the kitchen.

"When I walked in and saw that huge commercial kitchen, I thought, 'What am I doing here?' " But she credits Major Kathleen Steele, who had also been a divisional youth leader, for coming alongside her to help.

Today, the Davises work in Philadelphia at Pendel Headquarters. David is divisional secretary and Meg assists Lt. Colonel Marcella Carlson, the associate divisional commander, and is the Community Care Ministries secretary.

Pioneer home

The Davises' home church is the Philadelphia Pioneer Corps, which has a very strong music program led by Harold and Priscilla Burgmayer.

"They make music about ministry and message," Meg says. Meg follows that model as she accompanies the divisional "prep" chorus. She also is deputy leader of the Eastern Territorial Songsters, a choir whose members come from all over the territory.

At the corps, Meg leads a teen program, Corps Cadets. She is also involved in an intensive Bible study with seven Philadelphia area women; the group includes Priscilla and the Pioneer co-pastor, Major Susan Wittenberg.

"Those are my sisters," Meg says.

Meg's daughters, Brittany and Alexa, are also involved at the corps. Alexa, 11, is a Hannah Montana fan and would love to be a singer like her mom but finds it "really scary." Mom helps with that.

"She tells me, 'Stop being nervous. It doesn't matter if you mess up. You're singing for God.' "

Brittany, 16, is in Songsters, but she doesn't see herself as a singer. Currently, she's considering law school. "But I change my mind every day," she says.

When Brittany was small, both her dad and mom sang to her. One of Mom's favorites was, "I'm in His Hands."

Brittany says she believes that's true in her own life.

A Kaleidoscope moment

Throughout the time Meg and David have been officers, Meg has sung for major Salvation Army events in the United States and abroad. In 2005, she went to Argentina with the Pendel Brass and Singers; in February, she and Marcella Carlson traveled to South Africa for a Women's Leadership Conference.

One occasion that stands out in Meg's memory is being the featured soloist for the 2006 Christmas program at the majestic Royal Albert Hall in London. During her time there, she stayed with and became fast friends with Captains Jane and Neil Abbey.

The Abbeys came to the United States in 2007 for the USA Eastern Territory's Kaleidoscope Congress in Hershey, Pa.

The day after that Congress would be Brittany's 16th birthday. Captain Jane was amused that Meg was more flustered about planning her daughter's party than her upcoming solo, "The Lord's Prayer," at the Giant Center arena.

"You can sing in front of 8,000 people, but you're a basket case about a birthday party!" Meg remembers Jane saying.

For Meg, that solo brought another unforgettable moment. As she came to the final words, "For thine is the Kingdom ... and the power ... and the Glory ... " people all over the arena began to stand; their applause grew and grew until it filled the cavernous hall with her final "Amen."

"I had all I could do to hold myself together," she says. She realized that the praise was not for her, but for the Lord Himself.

That's exactly how Meg wants it.

Meg is working on a CD with Salvationist singer Raymond Livingston. A solo CD, "My Lips Will Praise You," is available through Salvation Army Trade stores.