We sing a song at our hymn services at Dunrovin that I once found quite curious. It’s a little ditty I had not heard until I arrived in Quesnel – it goes like this: “Come to the church in the wildwood, O come to the church in the dale. Nothing is so dear to my childhood than the little brown church in the vale.” As soon as I heard it, I pondered its origin. Who had written it, and why? Where was that little brown church?
It just so happens that the song predated the church. A settler by the name of William Pitts happened to be travelling from Wisconsin to Iowa in the mid 1800’s when he stopped in a town called Bradford. While there, he saw an empty lot and mused to himself at what a charming setting it would be for a church. It inspired him to pen the poem “Church in the Wildwood,” which he later set to music.
Some time passed and the church in Bradford, which had been meeting in places such as abandoned stores, decided it was time to build a dedicated space for worship. The church was completed in 1864, built upon the very lot which had inspired Pitts. Because funds were limited, they painted the church with the cheapest they could fine – an unhappy brown.
When Pitts returned to the community, he was shocked and inspired to see a church on the very lot where he had imagined one to be. Pitts had written a song for a church that wasn’t there; the congregation had painted their church brown without ever hearing the song.
Sometimes God works in mysterious ways. He places a thought, a poem, a song on our hearts. He speaks to us in a loud booming voice, or a still small voice. And what a marvel it is when He does! Are you listening for God today? Are you responding to His leading?
The story behind this song has proven to be more inspiring than I could possibly have imagined, for it reminds us of a God who is very much alive and who is eager to reveal Himself to us through cosmic wonders, and little things like a can of brown paint.
Laura Van Schaick is a lieutenant with the Salvation Army in Quesnel.