Whether it's a women's retreat, kids' camp or church service, Julie Nevel always is ready to sing.
She also is willing to go anywhere to spread the gospel through music and has made appearances in Scotland, Australia, Jamaica and of course her hometown of Altoona.
Nevel, 46, of Enola did not set out to be a solo contemporary Christian artist.
(Mirror photo by Patrick Waksmunski and Tom Worthington II) Julie Nevel performs at the Summer Gospel Concert Series July 18 at Altoona’s Heritage Plaza. Nevel, who grew up on a farm in Antis Township, has been singing at churches, Christian camps and conferences for 21 years.
"I liked to play [the keyboard] for others to sing," she said.
That was 21 years ago. Since that time, she recorded nine CDs, written most of her music and made hundreds of appearances without charging a fee, depending on offerings to provide her income.
"In the winter it slows down, but in the spring and summer, it's very busy. I sing at a lot of church camps," Nevel said.
Several trips to Altoona have been part of the summer schedule, including an appearance at the July Summer Gospel Concert Series held at Heritage Plaza. She also will give a concert at 7 p.m. Sunday at her home church, First Church of Christ, Juniata Gap and Good Shepherd roads.
"She's dynamic in her concerts," said the Rev. Paul Johnson, pastor of Eighteenth Street Community Church and an organizer of the Heritage Plaza event.
Johnson said he first heard Nevel sing about 10 years ago, and he invited her to minister at his church. She also sang at one of the first block parties hosted by Eighteenth Street Community Church.
"It was awesome for her to come out and do it," he said, "and it helped to spur the whole thing on.
"She's a down-to-earth person who can relate to anybody, and she exudes the love of God."
Her music is who she is, he said.
Ross Hoover, music minister at First Church of Christ, agreed.
"She sings from her heart. She is very genuine," he said. "You can tell she means what she says."
Hoover has known Nevel since they were children attending First Church of Christ with their families. As teens, they were members of Sounds of Praise, a traveling Christian group.
"She has a warm personality and a tender spirit. She loves Jesus and through her music, she shows that love to other people," Hoover said.
Connie Iscrupe, children's ministry director at First Church of Christ, believes Nevel has the ability to see other people's strengths and to help them stretch their abilities for God.
Iscrupe said she first met Nevel at a children's camp session at Camp Christian in Mill Run many years ago. Iscrupe and the dean were in the back of the chapel doing the motions to the songs when Nevel called them up front to lead the motions for the children.
"God used her to be instrumental in getting me to come out of my shell," said Iscrupe, who was a schoolteacher at the time.
"She invited me to go on my first missions trip to Scotland. She sees an open door and invites people to be part of the ministry," she said.
Iscrupe said Nevel recruited two young women from Bedford County to go to Scotland. One taught vacation Bible school, and another did publicity. She also invites instrumentalists to help out from time to time.
"Julie sees things. She does this a lot with people. She seeks out God's gifts in people."
Iscrupe has worked with Nevel through children's programs at First Church of Christ where Nevel will lead praise and worship for vacation Bible school next year.
"She is a pleasure to work with and gets into where I want to go.
"She's gets the kids wound up for Jesus and pours herself into her music."
Iscrupe sees Nevel as a leader but also a servant. "She has a desire to please," she said of the times when she is conducting the children's program and Nevel assists her.
An area where her leadership abilities come through are her Sister to Sister women's retreats.
Nevel has held them in Australia, Missouri, New York and Pennsylvania. She provides the music and secures a roster of speakers to fit the theme. She also acquires professionals for what she calls "fluff time" - manicures, massages and other pampering services. The churches take care of registration, food and accommodations.
Locally, she does a Friends in Faith retreat for 45 to 85 women at her parents' farm on Asbury Lane where a love of music was first instilled in Nevel and her siblings.
"My three sisters and my brother are all musically talented. We took piano lessons growing up," she said.
After graduating from Johnson Bible College in Knoxville, Tenn., where she studied piano, Nevel sang with a group from Cincinnati.
The group from Cincinnati did not last. Nevel ended up back in Antis Township where she became assistant track coach for Bellwood-Antis School District and worked for New Pig Corp.
People in the area began to ask her to sing at banquets, weddings and at churches. The local engagements led to other commitments and finally international requests.
When she is not singing, Nevel said she likes to find a quiet place to write. Two favorite spots are along the Susquehanna River or the woods on her parents' farm.
Her goal is to encourage people, she said. "I want to help them to reflect on God's message of grace and love."
"It's really amazing," she said about writing. "God is the creator and put a little bit of his creativity inside of us. Although God never changes, he is always doing something new. I look for a new way to say it."
Her writing ability led to a request to compose a song for breast cancer awareness and another for the aquatics event of Special Olympics in New London, Conn., a few years ago. The highlight of that appearance was that she got to sit beside Arnold Schwarzenegger. "He was the Terminator at that time, now he's governor of California," she said.
About her career Nevel said, "I didn't plan it. It kind of unfolded. God opened doors and I walked through them and here I am."