Thrive

In high school, Ethan Oltremari started writing songs as a form of personal prayer and worship with no intention to perform. Now as Associate Pastor of Worship and Connectional Ministries at First United Methodist Church in Indianola, Miss., he realizes the power of life and death that is found in the words we write, speak and sing. He released his third single You are with Me, based on Isaiah 43, in July of 2021 to give himself and others hope during the loneliness and isolation of COVID-19.

“It really came as a prayer over our church, but also a prayer that I prayed myself of ‘Lord, help me realize that you are you’re with me through every single valley, through every single situation. Good and bad. You never leave my side,’ Ethan said. “My hope for the song was that people would realize that they are never alone even in their darkest moments.”

On March 14, 2020, everything stopped, but while the world may have slowed down for others, Ethan’s 8-hour days turned into 14–16-hour days. He spent his time staring at a screen editing videos for each Sunday’s virtual service. As he read scripture one morning, he realized that no matter how isolate he felt, God was always with him. For almost a year, the song stayed on his white board until in November of 2020 he decided it was time to finish it.

Usually, Ethan hears a melody or a verse or part of a chorus in his mind and from there turns to scripture to find every single instance where the same word or situation occurs. From there, he just lets the process happen organically.

“When you write for the church and you’re writing for people to sing songs and to learn more about Jesus and to see Jesus, you’ve got to have sound theology and scriptural doctrine,” Ethan said. “Because I think if you don’t, you’re running the risk of writing songs that completely get everything wrong about who Jesus is.”

Ethan believes his time at Asbury Seminary has helped him more fully understand his theology and develop an unwavering knowledge of God that he seeks to incorporate into his music.

“The word says there’s the power of life and death in a tongue,” he said. “So, when we sing something, we’re speaking those words into life. So, how important it is that what we speak is theologically sound. You can’t have one without the other.”

Ethan encountered God for the first time through music and felt the call to ministry while leading Good Good Father by Chris Tomlin. Although he ran from the call and pursued his childhood desire to be a cardiothoracic surgeon, he realized he couldn’t say no. At a conference a few weeks before his first semester in college, a stranger approached him and said she had a word from the Lord for him. At the time, Ethan was unfamiliar with spiritual gifts, but he listened.

The woman said that the Lord wanted Ethan to be a heart doctor, but in the spiritual realm, not the physical realm. Ethan realized that he couldn’t do medical practice during the week and pastor on the side. He had to give 100 percent. Immediately, he switched his major from biology to audio engineering technology.

“There are times when I really wish I was a doctor and doing things in the medical field but there are so many more moments of just confirmation that I’m exactly where I’m supposed to be,” he said. “That overshadows everything, and knowing that, I’m just so fulfilled in what I’m doing. And I just feel so secure in the calling that I’m walking that I could not imagine it any other way.”

In his role, Ethan leads the traditional and contemporary services at First UMC in Indianola, Miss., as well as the college ministry and overall discipleship of the congregation. He is also pursuing a hybrid M.Div. degree at the Memphis Extension Site. This degree option combines online education with classroom education through one-to-two intensive classes on site.

“Every single thing I’m learning, I’m able to apply as I learn it,” Ethan said. “Being able to walk in my calling while also being poured into by some of the most profound theologians in the world and hearing from these people who have had years upon years of ministry experience has been one of the most fruitful things that I have ever done in my life.”

“You Are With Me” is available on major music and streaming platforms, such as Apple Music, Spotify, iTunes and Pandora.

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