Kelly Stultz Stepping Down As Music Director At First Presbyterian Church

Friday, May 22, 2020
Kelly Stultz with choir president Steve George in video announcing that she is stepping down
Kelly Stultz with choir president Steve George in video announcing that she is stepping down

Kelly Stultz, who has served as director of music and fine arts at First Presbyterian Church, announced in a video that she is stepping down from the position.

Click here for the video message from Ms. Stultz.

She served for 15 years in the post formerly held by famed music director Glenn Draper.


Stultz noted that she has been a part "of this beloved church" since she was 14 and she married Andy Stultz there in 1995.

She said she was resigning "for deeply personal reasons."

Ms. Stultz said she had informed Dr. Tim Kirk, interim senior pastor, and Don Holwerda, church administrator, of her decision in late January. She told members of the choir and staff in early February.

Ms. Stultz is from a musical family including her son David who is an accomplished organist. She traveled with the Glenn Draper Singers during their concerts that took the group around the world.  She wrote and produced several Christmas concerts at First Presbyterian that are given each December. 


The late Ben Haden said, "There's not a choral musician anywhere to compare to Kelly. One cannot engage Kelly in conversation very long without learning of her deep commitment to Christ."


She was a featured vocalist before many of Ben Haden's sermons while he was pastor of First Presbyterian Church.  


The late Hamilton County Commissioner Curtis Adams called Kelly Stultz "a true Chattanooga treasure."

Ms. Stultz previously was music director at Hixson Presbyterian Church.

Mike Milton was the pastor when she joined First Presbyterian.

Ms. Stultz said the church plans to call an interim music director, who will start in July.

Also appearing with her in the video is Steve George, choir president who had high words of praise for her.

Jen Jeffrey wrote this bio of Kelly Stultz for in 2013:

First Presbyterian Church in Chattanooga has a gem in their music director, Kelly Stultz. The church has a rich history of wonderful leaders, but Kelly brings an undeniable energy all her own.

Born in the small town of Owatonna in Minnesota, Kelly’s family moved to Tennessee after she was one year old. Parents David and Sigrid Luther had just finished their post graduate work at Pillsbury Seminary after having attended Bob Jones University where Kelly would also attend college.

David and Sigrid were music teachers while Kelly was growing up – something she said she would never do herself. Now professors at Bryan College, Kelly’s parents had given great encouragement in the path she would eventually take.

As Kelly had musical dreams of going to New York to become part of something bigger, she would later learn that true joy would be right here at home. With her father directing and teaching vocal and choral and her mother teaching piano, Kelly was bound to find her place in music.

As a teenager, she focused on other things. “I was a tomboy growing up. My dad told me that one day, I would be the perfect mom for boys - he predicted that I would have boys and, lo and behold, I have two boys,” she beams.

“I was a tree climber, bug catcher…  I grew up like the son my dad never had. My sister Tara and I were both tomboys. We went to ball games and knew everything about football and baseball,” Kelly declares.

Kelly received a good blend of both her parents' attributes. “Dad was a cool musician and very well rounded. I am more like my dad as far as humor, personality, his energy and his heart. He taught me that he wasn’t doing it for himself, but for the Lord – and that influenced me. I remember him telling me that the way to get rid of nerves was to pray and to tell the Lord it’s for Him and nothing else matters. That was repeated over and over to me and that’s what I would pray,” Kelly says.

Her father was her voice teacher before she was instructed by a German Opera singer at Bob Jones University. Becoming well-educated in music, Kelly had found her voice and she had what it took to move on to bigger things, but she vowed that she would never teach or become a church musician.

“It’s so funny, because I said nev-v-ver,” Kelly emphasizes, “and God laughed while my parents just said, ‘We’ll see’.”

During grad school, Kelly worked as a graduate assistant having to teach while she learned. “That’s what changed my heart for teaching - this is the true joy. Mom was right when she told me that. She was always right about everything. My mom was God’s wisdom in my life. She saw beyond my stubbornness,” Kelly acknowledges.

Shaking her head she adds, “My poor mom didn’t have the little girlie-girls with fancy bows. Gymnastics was huge in my life. I was painfully shy – no one believes me, but I was,” Kelly laughs. “Gymnastics turned that around.”

Kelly took gymnastics at the YMCA in Dayton and earned the title of state champion for two years.

“This little YMCA in Dayton beat the Knoxville and Memphis teams. The coach was a major influence on my life. I got to ‘Elite level’ but then I got a little too tall and started getting interested in music,” Kelly says.

She coached while in college as well as taught aerobics at the YMCA where she was dubbed ‘Killer Kelly’.

Her passion for music soon took over her athleticism. Kelly loved singing opera with her mezzo soprano voice. She admired singing recital pieces in the mezzo-soprano/contralto repertoire such as Carmen and Sampson and Delilah.

“I love drama. I never minded that some of the lower-voiced women were the ‘evil characters’ … that just made it more fun,” Kelly insists. “it was beautiful music and I just loved singing it.”

Kelly had met her husband Andy when they attended middle school. Her best friend was Andy’s sister Amy, so Kelly and Andy’s relationship was only of friendship in the beginning. It was Kelly’s mother who had seen the potential romance between the two, giving light to Kelly’s reference of her mother always being right.

“Andy and I thought of each other as brother and sister for a long time. We then dated for about a month but I was not serious-minded at that moment. We went our separate ways, but I was still a part of their family,” Kelly says.

Between grad school, Andy started thinking romantically about her. “I went back to the Y and was working there. I was out at the playground with the kids and was told that I had a phone call - it was Andy,” Kelly rolls her eyes.

“Now, my mom was patient through all the other guys I dated, but she always pushed for Andy. I say that she fell in love with him before I did,” Kelly laughs. “I wondered, ‘why are you calling me at work?’ and he said, ‘My sister is going out of the country I want to see her off… I am coming into town - do you want to join my family?’ I said, ‘I have plans with my dad Friday… we have something to do,” Kelly explains.

With a downward wave of her hand she continues the story. “He said, ‘Oh, I have already cleared that with your mom and she said it’s okay.’ So we ended up going to dinner after Amy got on the plane and then he took me to a movie after that, so it turned into a date,” Kelly laughs.

“After a couple of weeks, it was as if God opened my eyes. I get chills just thinking about it,” Kelly gushes.

As Kelly matured in her faith, she watched in awe as God would reveal things to her in spite of her own stubbornness. 

“First He opened my eyes about church music and now this. Beyond my salvation, Andy is the biggest gift of my life,” Kelly beams, “it’s just seeing his Christ-like love.  He wants to stay in the background and doesn’t want recognition. He is unbelievable, I learn so much from him. He is a great husband and father.”

Andy teaches pre-calculus and geometry at Baylor and also coaches golf. Kelly enjoys spending time with her family when she is not working. Their oldest son David just graduated middle school at Baylor and is talented in music and art. While taking an elective art class, David had painted a river scene which he could see out of the back window in the art building. The thing that touched Kelly’s heart was when her son voiced, “I thank my God, the creator of the scene I painted and for the ability to paint.”

Patrick, her rising fifth grader, who recently scored straight A’s at Battle Academy, is also a source of pride for Kelly.

“I have to say that my biggest honor right now is that Patrick tells me, ‘Mom, you’re the little a awesome’ which means,” Kelly explains, “that God is Awesome and I am the ‘little a’ awesome,” she laughs.

“I go on all the (amusement) rides with them and do all the crazy stuff. My dad was so right - I have fun with my boys,” Kelly asserts.

After she and Andy had married, Kelly began teaching music at Temple University. “I taught voice, led ensembles, taught ear training, sight singing of different levels and stayed busy. It was a very busy first job, but it was good to start like that,” Kelly contends.

She stayed at Temple for four years and also taught at Lee and Bryan part time. When Carlene Kidwell at Hixson Pres wanted to finish her degree at Bryan, they needed a summer director. Kelly’s mother was already playing the piano there. 

“Mom encouraged me to take the position. She knew I had the training and that I would love doing it,” Kelly says.

She stayed at Hixson Pres for four and a half years before taking the music director position at First Pres on McCallie where the incomparable Glenn Draper had led music for 34 years. Kim Cargile held the position for a few years and then Kelly’s father served as the summer director and interim.

“When I left Hixson, there were no hard feelings. In fact, that is my second church family. Kim wanted to have lunch with me and she said I was her first choice for the position at First Pres. This was my church growing up and I started choir with Glenn at age 14. At first I told Kim no - I loved Hixson, I loved our choir family and my family was doing great,” Kelly insists.

It took Kelly six months before she changed her mind. She whispers with a nod, “I am very stubborn.”

The fact that Kelly grew up at First Pres and also knowing their excellent music history helped in hindering her from initially jumping at the chance.

“Glenn had built it, Kim kept it going and my dad… my musical hero – it was all just a little intimidating,” Kelly admits. “Finally I said, ‘Okay Lord, if this is you speaking through all these people who know me and they know YOU, I will put my resume in and just trust. It had been six months and I thought they probably would have found somebody but I got a call the next day,” Kelly says.

When asked what the hardest thing she faced as the music director at First Pres, Kelly humbly says, “The shoes. My first Sunday directing, Glenn, my dad, Kim, Dr. Wilhoit were all in the choir. I was a little shaky,” Kelly admits.

“They gave me such encouragement. Glenn would come to my office every couple of weeks just to say ‘you’re doing great… don’t let anyone get you down… people may complain’… he knows the struggles and the joy,” Kelly says.

When churches transition, it can leave an open door for preference and opinion, but Kelly has learned to walk in ‘the shoes’ with dignity and grace.

“The people-pleasing part of me is my struggle. I don’t want to disappoint – but you just can’t do that. You really have to stay in communion and ask, ‘Who am I here for?’ God will guide me and give me the right counselor when I face those struggles,” Kelly acknowledges. 

When directing the choir for worship, it is more to Kelly than just about having a great sound. She had observed her predecessors' leadership and with that motivation, her own energy and her focus to give everything to God, Kelly helps to bring the choir and congregation to meaningful worship.

“People may see Glenn as a showman, but he really is all about the worship. I think that comes to my mind in what motivates me. There is true joy in worship. Any other way is very temporary and you don’t see the fruit. The true joy… that’s what I want,” Kelly vows.

“Pastor Tim said it great Sunday when he talked about those who stand in front of Ruby Falls pointing for people to pull in. He said, ‘That’s what we are doing. That’s what I’m doing - what we are all doing, we are pointing …to Christ…’ and that’s my motivation,” Kelly says.

Her love for the ministry, whether it is leading in worship, organizing choir mission trips to Belarus, holding concerts for the shut-in and the prison, working with children’s choir, can be demanding, but her energy is evident when she directs a powerful anthem. Some may call her a ‘fireball’.

“People will sometimes say to me, ‘You’ve got to be exhausted’ after a special performance, but I am not. In fact, I always feel better physically - I felt like I was carried the whole time. I know it’s the Lord, not me,” Kelly says.

With no regrets for choosing a career in church music over New York, Kelly has learned what brings true joy.

 “When it is ‘Him’ …I am a part of something bigger.” 


Kelly Stultz
Kelly Stultz

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