As the little brown church in the vale.
The above lyric is from the song "The Church in the Wildwood" written in 1857 by Dr. William S. Pitts. It is a song my congregation still sings from time to time and there is never a time I sing it or hear it that I fail to think of my own church. While we are not in a valley, nor are we brown, we are little and it is most definitely a dear spot from my childhood.
I have many good memories from attending church over these past 41 years but the yearly Christmas play acted out by the children of the church is among the most fond. Most years we did (and still do) some rendition of the original Christmas story. You know, that one found in Luke 2.
Now, as a youngster my favorite role to play was Mary. With a flowing nightgown and shawl, she had the best costume. Plus, Mary never had to memorize any lines (which was good because memorizing anything seemed
too much like school work to me). She just had to sit there by the manger and look good. I always thought having long brown hair, and since I was the Pastor's kid, would make me the obvious choice to play her each year. However, in the name of fairness, we had to switch it up some, so I spent my fair share of time playing an angel, too. I'm also pretty sure I played a shepherd one year - which stunk because in those days all the shepherds ever wore were bathrobes and towels on their heads, although they did get to carry some pretty cool tobacco sticks as their staffs. The wise men had it a little better. They still had to wear bathrobes, but theirs could be more brightly colored, plus they each wore a crown made from tin foil.
This year, one of the plays the kids did was an interpretation of the song "The Friendly Beasts". Ren was Mary and John-Heath was the donkey. Mary was still silent but John-Heath did have a line, which he quickly learned a few weeks ago and said with gusto...
"I," said the donkey, shaggy and brown,
"I carried His mother up hill and down;
I carried her safely to Bethlehem town."
"I," said the donkey, shaggy and brown.
The other little skit performed tonight was based on the song "The Christmas Guest". I love this song! It's a great song with a great meaning but I love it best when recited by Grandpa Jones, who always reminded me of my Pa Frazier. Anyway, the kids were awesome in this one, too.
In addition to the play itself, an equally fond memory from the evening of the church play is of my father standing by the door passing out sacks to everyone in attendance as they were leaving to go home. In each sack there was always an apple, an orange, and some candy. My father was raised during part of the Great Depression and has always spoke of what a treat it was at Christmas to receive even a piece of fruit, so I think this may have been what prompted him to begin doing this. We still do it to this day. It may seem insignificant but I just can't imagine the night of our Christmas play without those brown paper sacks.
P.S. The story behind the song "The Church in the Wildwood" is quite charming. You can go here to read about it or read about it in the book Then Sings My Soul Vol. 2, which tells the stories behind some of the most loved hymms.
The real Little Brown Church.