By Kurt J. Kolka
FORT WAYNE, IND. – Those of us who are baby-boomers remember her as simply Honeytree. During those earliest days of Contemporary Christian Music during the late‘60s and early ’70s, her folk music with its honesty and clear message brought a new generation of believers humbly before the Lord.
Nancy Honeytree grew up in a musical family, playing cello in a family quartet. She learned the guitar from her mother and drew inspiration from artists such as Joan Baez and Joni Mitchell.
She was invited to visit her sister Jane at art school in Fort Wayne in the Spring of 1970, an event which would change her life forever. While she was there she was witnessed to about Jesus Christ by high schoolers. During this trip she also met John Lloyd and his ministry to young people through the Adam’s Apple Coffee House
“I saw tremendous joy in these people. Most of all the Spirit of God was just working on me. I had been wondering what life was all about. As I listened to John Lloyd give his testimony [his story of how he came to know Jesus] I had this inner voice I was listening to as well, which turned out to be the Holy Spirit,” says Nancy.
“The Voice said, ‘Listen to him. This is what you’ve been looking for.’ It was the first time I had been around born-again people. And that was extremely moving. Although at the time, I didn’t fully understand it, because I hadn’t been born again yet.”
After graduating high school, she returned to Fort Wayne to stay and become part of the Adam’s Apple Coffee House ministry. John Lloyd discipled her in her new faith. She became a worship leader. It was during this time she became interested in writing her own songs as well.
“‘Clean Before my Lord’ was one of my first songs. I would throw [my own folk songs] in every once in a while [during worship] and people got really blessed by them. We sang in [other] coffee houses. So, my own music ministry began to develop in those days.”
One of the pastors at the ministry knew something about the recording industry. He had her record 10 songs on an album. A copy was sent to Word Records, who began selling it nationally and would offer her a seven-record contract. As she was given air time by radio stations, calls began coming in for her to perform at larger concerts. In 1975, she hit the road.
Much of this was fueled by the Jesus Movement during the late 1960s. Many young people had become disillusioned with the hippie movement at the time. They found an alternative lifestyle in living for Jesus Christ. During this revival, Christian radio stations hit a boom period playing a new type of Christian music.
“When the Jesus Movement happened, there was an explosion of a new, fresh kind of music. The hippies who were saved [dedicated their lives to following Jesus] were from all different kinds of backgrounds. The kind of music they liked was not religious. It was just all different types of music — rock, pop, folk. So, we just started writing what came out of us. But the Lord was in it. He caused the whole thing to grow.
“Here in Fort Wayne, we were a Midwest stop-over for most of the Jesus artists who were on the road. We had Second Chapter of Acts, Randy Stonehill, Phil Keaggy, LoveSong and Andre Crouch. There were several years where we would host them.”
Even those Christian artists she didn’t meet in Fort Wayne, she would meet at concerts and festivals as her popularity grew. Ironically, another popular group from the time came from Adam’s Apple ministry at the same time she did — Petra. In fact, they often performed together.
“It was quite a contrast,” says Nancy of the rock band.
With her third album, “Evergreen,” Nancy became well known for songs like “Rattle Me, Shake Me,” “Evergreen,” “Searchlight” and “(Lovely Jesus) Here I am.”
As the Christian music festivals and Christian radio stations blossomed over the next few years, Contemporary Christian music became a household word to people of faith. During the ’80s, these Jesus artists’ musical styles inspired careers for iconic performers like Michael W. Smith and Amy Grant.
It was also during this period, God placed a curve in the road of Nancy’s journey. At the height of her popularity among believers, she was taken in an unexpected direction.
Nancy became involved in the singles ministry with Mike Cavanaugh at Elim Bible Institute. Mike invited Nancy to help out at singles conferences called Mobilized to Serve.
“Mike preached a message that really touched me. It was about undivided devotion. I rededicated myself to the Lord as a single person, whether I ever got married or not. I just said, ‘Lord, you have your way. I am going to quit wondering about whether I am ever going to get married or not.’
“So, I started writing songs [for singles] like ‘Tell me What Love is,’ ‘Every Single Day,’ ‘Jesus Be the Daddy in Our House,’ ‘One Memory at a Time’ and ‘Unconditional Surrender.’ Then I started ministering at single adult conferences. They had me do an hour talk about forgiveness or grief recovery or whatever. So, I learned to speak and that was a really neat development.
“All through the ’80s I did singles ministries. Now, I had a target audience, where before I was a Christian artist in general. Now, I was focused on ministering to single adults. It was really healthy for me. It was a great time in my life. I really got back to basics with the Lord.
“I probably wasn’t as well known [after that] as far as public exposure. The general public probably thought I’d fell off the face of the earth. But I was busy; I was still serving the Lord. I felt I was going through the door the Lord opened for me. So, I was happy.”
Five years after she devoted her life to singles ministry, Nancy met J.R. Miller in her local church singles group when she was 36. They married in 1990.
They had a son named Will together. The Miller’s house became a favorite spot for Will and his friends to gather, even though Nancy and J.R. were like the grandparents’ age of most of the kids.
With Nancy having a family, her ministry focus began changing as well. Her husband J.R. was into missions work around the world. Nancy began finding new audiences for her music in other countries, such as Germany, England and the Latin America area. They played for wounded soldiers, which J.R. loved to do.
Sadly, J.R. passed away in 2018, days short of their 28th anniversary.
Today, Nancy is a worship leader at two churches in the Fort Wayne area. And one weekend a month she still sets aside for concerts and other events. Through her years on missions trips with J.R., she came to love cross-cultural ministry. Many of her songs have now been translated into other languages, so people can better understand the words to her songs when she travels.
Nancy herself learned to speak Spanish and has translated many of her songs into that language. One of the churches she is worship leader at has her doing worship for the Spanish-speaking members. In fact, in this past summer she performed at a multi-cultural church in Leelanau, singing her songs in both Spanish and English for her mixed audience.
“I would really love to give to the Body of Christ somehow. I would like to teach people the essence of what Jesus has taught me. That’s what I would like to do in the next phase of my life.
“He has really taught me about abiding in Him all the time. That really has a huge effect on my life. It’s not like I have a religious part of my life and a secular part of my life. I just hang out with Jesus all the time. I am always in conversation with Him. It’s more of a relationship.”
Nancy says her time with the Lord isn’t created by any type of formula with so many hours of prayer, so many hours of fasting or so many hours of Bible study. Yet it includes all of those things. She keeps in mind that He is always present with her and she acknowledges that by talking with Him.
“I just hang out with Jesus and He is a part of everything.”
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