A reflection on Darren DeMent’s 25th anniversary by Milton Brasher-Cunningham
I am of an age where a lot of the bands I grew up with are celebrating iconic anniversaries, as are some of my favorite albums, which is another way to say it was 54 years ago today that Sgt. Pepper taught the band to play.
I know Wilshire has just marked its 70th anniversary. And Darren DeMent is marking 25 years on staff — almost a third of that time. It is not a surprise that we are celebrating his 25th, even though that is a truly amazing milestone. It is not a surprise because of who Darren is and the faithfulness with which he has chosen to answer God’s call on his life.
This summer, Ginger, my wife, visited her goddaughter Ally, who is a restaurateur in Athens, Georgia. One of Ally’s friends described her as “Athens Famous,” which I heard as an incredible compliment. Outside of Athens she is not so well known, but in her town — in the place she has chosen to invest her life — she is well-known for the way she brings people together and helps those around her.
Darren is “Wilshire Famous.” He has sunk his roots deep into the generations who have come through the student ministry, along with their families and friends, and he has left his fingerprints on all our lives. I include myself as part of his legacy. As I said five years ago, he is The One Who Stayed. In a world where people spend most of their lives looking for what is coming next, he has made himself “Wilshire Famous” by continuing to imagine what could be right where he is. He has incarnated what it means to be faithful: to stay, to be content, to live expectantly. And he has also given it a melody.
One of the unexpected benefits of the pandemic has been being able to hear him play and sing, along with others, in worship and in other midweek offerings. I love the way he finds songs that are not in the hymnal but have an encouraging word to offer nonetheless.
One of the songs I learned from him is one we are going to use at youth camp in a couple of weeks. It is by a band called Dawes, and the chorus says:
“I hope life without a chaperone is what you thought it’d be/ I hope your brother’s El Camino lives forever/ I hope the world sees the same person that you’ve always been to me/ and may all your favorite bands stay together.”
For 25 years, Darren DeMent has been the same person to us all — one who has stayed and loved and sang and hoped and worked and cared. He has watched band members come and go, even as he has done the work to keep the youth ministry singing and growing. My “Wilshire Famous” friend has shown us what it takes to keep the band together — and Wilshire is one of my favorite bands.
I am grateful you are still putting out good music.
Milton Brasher-Cunningham is a mentor and friend to Darren who has served as camp pastor at many Wilshire youth camps and will do so again this summer. He has worked as a pastor, youth minister, hospital chaplain, high school English teacher, chef and editor.