RICEVILLE, Tenn. (Oct. 24, 2017) -- Betty Trotter was 16 years old when she began playing the piano for Spring Creek United Methodist Church. For 70 years of Sundays, the congregation has been blessed by her music.
On Sunday, Trotter’s congregation and family celebrated her 70-year ministry with a surprise luncheon, just one day before her 86th birthday.
“I can’t teach or do a lot of other things, but I can do this,” Trotter said during a party featuring a cake illustrated with piano keys. “This is my contribution.”
Bishop Dindy Taylor attended worship and the reception with her husband, the Rev. Rusty Taylor. Bishop Taylor remembered twice preaching at Spring Creek’s annual camp meeting, in the historic shed on the property, when she served as Cleveland District superintendent from 1999 to 2004.
“Betty Trotter has had an impact on so many lives throughout the years, with this gift of music that God has given her,” Taylor said.
Trotter said she was suspicious that something special was planned when she saw so many guests attending worship on Oct. 22. Spring Creek UMC’s average worship attendance is 20, according to the Rev. Corey Douglas Miller. About 40 people attended the luncheon after worship.
“I didn’t expect to see my nephew, and I didn’t expect to see the bishop,” Trotter said.
Trotter’s nephew said he was always struck by his aunt’s dedication to her ministry.
“While visiting this small church throughout my life, I have always been impressed that it is the focal point of the rural, farming community in McMinn County. And Betty has been one of the foundational members for all those years that kept the church alive,” said John Buchheit, a member at Middlebrook Pike United Methodist Church in Knoxville, Tenn.
Church music apparently runs in the family. Buchheit's wife, Sabra, plays the organ at Middlebrook Pike UMC. Betty Trotter's aunt, Helen Barham, was the organist at Spring Creek UMC and encouraged her niece to follow her on piano.
(More photos and video at bottom of page.)
Trotter said that her favorite hymns are “How Great Thou Art” and “He Touched Me.” On the day of her reception, she played “He Touched Me” for the prelude. Floral centerpieces were created with rolled-up sheet music for “How Great Thou Art.”
She was married for 57 years to Robert Trotter, a former Sunday school teacher at Spring Creek UMC and millwright at Bowater Paper Mill in Calhoun, Tenn. He died in 2007.
“I keep thinking – ‘70 years, how many Sundays is that? How many Sundays has she been dedicated to doing this?’” said Gay Casey, one of Trotter’s three children. Casey is a member at Hixson United Methodist Church near Chattanooga, Tenn.
Casey said the family “coerces” Trotter to miss playing the piano at least two Sundays a year for vacation. After neck surgery three years ago, Trotter was back at the piano “as soon as she could sit up,” Casey said. Four years ago, Trotter played the piano after wrist surgery, while wearing a cast on her arm.
Trotter said her longest breaks from playing occurred when her youngest daughter, Connie Stanfield, was born, and when Casey was a student at Cleveland State Community College. Casey played the piano for two years then. (Trotter’s son, Jerry Trotter, is a member at Spring Creek UMC.)
“I’ll play as long as I’m able, because there’s no one else to do it,” the pianist said. She said she was worried about the future of piano or organ music in the church, with fewer musicians available to play.
Over the last seven decades, Trotter has worked with 23 pastors at Spring Creek. She's on her third piano, the latest bought as a memorial to her mother.
"She serves as an example to all of us for what a life of giving one’s self to God looks like,” said Buchheit.
Photos: (1) Piano hands (2) Bishop Dindy Taylor and Betty Trotter (3) Trotter at the reception (4) Musical cake (5) Reception guests (6) Trotter with family (6) Trotter with Rev. Corey Miller (7) Spring Creek UMC (8) Camp shed (9) Favorite music/ Photos by Annette Spence and Jim Casey
Annette Spence is editor of The Call, the Holston Conference newspaper.