We do not want, as the newspapers say, a church that will move with the world.
We want a church that will move the world.
– G. K. Chesterton
While traveling through Iowa in 1857, William S. Pitt noticed a vacant piece of land and thought it would make an ideal spot for a church. Inspired, he penned The Church in the Wildwood but, when he got home, he put the hymn in a drawer…and forgot about it.
Several years later when he returned to the area, he was surprised to find that a little brown church really had been built on the very same piece of land as he had imagined. Remembering the hymn, his singing class performed it at the Little Brown Church’s dedication in 1864.
A year later, Pitt sold the rights to The Church in the Wildwood for $25 to pay for medical school and again the hymn languished, largely ignored and forgotten. But in the 1920’s and 30’s, a traveling barbershop group, Weatherwax Quartet, used the hymn in their performances creating a surge in its popularity. Today, however, you won’t find this hymn in the pages of most modern hymnals.
So why is this hymn, that has waxed and waned in popularity, still widely recognized, loved by many, and actively used for countless church choir anthems, keyboard arrangements, and popular artists’ recordings?
Aside from being one of the few hymns with a refrain that spotlights the lower voice parts (O come, come, come, come…), I believe this hymn has held its appeal thanks to the vivid, detailed picture it paints – especially about a “place so dear to my childhood.”
In that spirit, I created a piano arrangement of The Church in the Wildwood that pairs it with another dearly held childhood hymn: Jesus Loves Me. A simple, homey arrangement, it’s been a favorite with church pianists around the globe since its release. Hope you enjoy it, too.
How sweet on a clear Sunday morning,
To list to the clear ringing bell;
Its tones so sweetly are calling,
Oh, come to the church in the vale.