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Something to be said about old hymns


July 2, 2012
Billie Shelton , The Daily Freeman Journal

I read somewhere recently that there are two reasons for going (or going back to) church. One is to practice praying so that when you really need that you'll be ready. The other reason is so that you'll have a chance to sing in harmony.

Although my first reaction was to chuckle at that suggestion, now I'm thinking that author may be on to something. Especially the part about singing. One can pray anywhere.

Singing, though, now that's something that most of us don't do just everywhere. I can't remember ever hearing my husband sing anywhere outside of the church sanctuary, but he always sings the hymns even though he can't read a note of music. He can't carry a tune, either, but that doesn't stop him. And he's the one who often scans the bulletin before the service starts and leans over to tell me if this is a good song day or a bad one.

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I understand about contemporary Christian music and praise songs, and I like some of them, but there's just something to be said about the old hymns with their strong harmonies, maybe a rolling bass line, and great lyrics. Our pastor throws in one of them every now and again on a Sunday morning and recently told the congregation to "Raise the roof!" when we sang one of them.

The titles of these old hymns come from days past. Who knows anything anymore about gathering at the river or bringing in the sheaves, for instance? What about ivory palaces or a haven of rest? But then there are other timeless song titles, like "A Little Bit of Love" and "Sunshine in my Soul." Regardless of how long it's been since the hymn was written, it doesn't hurt any of us to be reminded to "Count Your Blessings."

Iowa has a claim to fame in the hymn department, you know. "The Church in the Wildwood" is a well-known hymn even beyond our state borders. It was written about 155 years back by William Pitts, who wrote a poem about a lovely wooded glade he visited briefly while on a stagecoach trip to visit his fiance. Later he set the poem to music.

The story goes that five years later when Pitts and his wife returned to the area to live, they were surprised to see that a little brown church had just been built in the same glad that inspired him to write the song several years earlier. His song was sung at the church dedication and has been enjoyed countless times since.

The Little Brown Church in the Vale is well known as a location for destination weddings and hosts about 400 of them each year, as well as an annual reunion for couples who were married there. To date more than 73,000 couples have been married at the historic Iowa church.



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