While rehearsing with a church worship band in Mt. Juliet about 10 years ago, guitarist-vocalist Bill Kelly heard a sweet feminine voice that sent shivers through his musical soul.
Today, Kelly and Jennifer Kane, the woman behind the voice, blend harmonies in the duet Angel Armies, a unique yet simple Christian ministry that combines song and prayer to give hope and comfort to people confronting such crises as cancer, death, divorce and bankruptcy.
For a decade the music mates, members of The Bridge Fellowship Church in Lebanon, wrestled with how God could use their talents.
"For the longest time we prayed and asked God, 'What do you want us to do with this gift you have given us as a singing team?' We never got an answer," said Kelly.
"Then two years ago a very good friend of both of ours was diagnosed with breast cancer. Within an hour of one another we both got an email, and we realized this was what we had been praying for. God touched our hearts at the same time, telling us 'This is what I want you to do.'
"The details just flew into us. When it happened to us it was as if God had taken sticky notes and popped them into the back our heads. We were immediately on the same page. It is very powerful when you are on the receiving end of what God has in mind," said Kelly.
After their inaugural music and prayer service for their friend, Mt. Juliet's Jennifer Wethington, Kane recalled, "When we finished, we were absolutely surrounded by love. There were tears, lots of tears and hugs for days. People came to us and told us how touched they were and thanked us. Or certain songs we sang, how they felt when they heard it, and some said how some of the songs we did, they felt we picked just for them. It was very surreal and exciting."
Says Wethington, "When they came to me and asked about starting this ministry and having a worship event, words can't even express how I felt at that time. When you're facing such a tragic thing like cancer and don't know where it's gonna take you and what's gonna be the outcome, and then you see all these good things that come from that along the way, it helps you keep things in perspective.
"It was really very moving. It helps you to reflect back on the experience and God's faithfulness in answering prayer. There's the underlying message of hope."
Today, Wethington reports, "I'm great. I will be two years cancer free in April and things are wonderful."
The birth of a ministry
Angel Armies held that first ministry service at Hermitage Hills Baptist Church two years ago.
"We usually come together for an hour of music, worship and prayer. We sing worship songs in between prayers and have video testimony as people we know share their stories."
"The whole point of the event is to bring some comfort to those folks, who have dealt with or are dealing with this sort of thing, pointing them to Jesus," Kelly said. "In that hour time we have people share their experiences along with the hope and strength that God has given them through life's crushing times. It's very..."
"Very intimate," says Kane completing the thought. "One of the key things is how incredibly healing the music is for people.
"I would describe our sound as very unique, intimate, raw, fragile... With just voices and guitar it takes it to a place where people don't hear a concert. They hear the words expressed as prayer. It puts people in that moment of worship where they feel as if it's just them and God."
Kelly elaborates on the songs saying, "We do our own version of old hymns like 'Standing on the Promises' or 'It Is Well With My Soul,' and we do fabulous contemporary worship music that really affects us when we hear it.
"We have done this for more than 100 people, for 30, for 15, and every time we do it, the response is the same: People are moved that get it. It works. The holy spirit shows up and does what God can do. We're just tools."
What's in the name?
The duo came up with their name from Christian singer-songwriter Chris Tomlin's song, "Whom Shall I Fear (God of Angel Armies)," which takes its chorus from Psalm 27: "The Lord is my light and my salvation; Whom shall I fear? The Lord is the strength of my life; Whom shall I be afraid of?"
Angel Armies also consists of the prayer team of Dawn Crumpton, April Stasek and Jennifer Wethington.
Kane and Kelly have shared their musical gift on about 20 occasions over the past two years, mostly at churches.
"We just did one at a life group at The Bridge. Up to this point people have heard about it, usually from another person and come to us. We try to let people know through Facebook," said Kelly. "Our desire is whatever God wants. If we had our way, we would probably do one a week. We just get so much joy out of it."
"One thing we have learned it is not as much about the numbers. If one person gets touched, that one person was there because God wanted them there," said Kane, who lives in Lebanon with husband Tery and their children John and Maggie.
A native of Iron Mountain, Michigan, she graduated from Mt. Juliet High School in 1995 and works part time for Austermiller Roofing in Mt. Juliet.
Kelly resides in Old Hickory with wife Annie and has three children: Amber Ulmer, Keegan and Jonathan. Born in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania, he earned a degree in philosophy at King's College and was a professional musician across four decades with The Buoys, Dakota and The Jerry-Kelly Band. While continuing to make music, he also is a salesman for Johnson & Johnson.
The musical partners became acquainted during rehearsals for a Christmas show at Green Hills Church where Kelly played guitar and Kane was one of 50 voices in the choir.
"I had never heard Jennifer sing. I was out walking around and heard this voice singing a duet with another guy, and I stopped dead in my tracks and said, 'Who is that?' and someone told me, 'That's Jennifer Kane,'" recalled Kelly.
"I had been singing and playing with her for a year or two and had no clue. I ran in and said, 'Holy cow, I love that voice.' I approached her and said, 'I'm just a guitar player and I sing. Would you like to do a duet with me?'
"She said yes. We picked a song and told the director, and we got a chance to sing, just the two of us and a guitar. At the end of the song 300 to 400 people stood up and applauded for like five minutes. We were freaking out," he said.
CD, albums and necklaces
Angel Armies has recorded a five-song CD, Kane & Kelly, which may be purchased via their Facebook page. They plan a new album soon with original music.
Kane has also created Angel Armies prayer warrior necklaces in the form of a dog tag, doing so "to give to people like Jennifer... It's almost a reminder that God's army is always there, and his angels are there to protect us.
'To date I have probably made 150-175 of them, one at a time by hand," Kane said. "I recently made 30 for a class of second-graders in my daughter's class because one of their classmates was diagnosed with leukemia.
"We sell them to cover what it costs to make them, and it's something we give to people as well. We probably have given away more than we've sold. We want people to know there are people out there who care about them," said the Angel Armies vocalist.
For more info about Angel Armies, check out their Facebook page at facebook.com/AngelArmies
Writer Ken Beck may be contacted at email@example.com.