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New pastor helps spur revival of Iowa church

December 1, 2018

WATERLOO, Iowa (AP) — If walls could talk, the Little Brown Church in the Vale would belt out in song. Songs from more than a century ago are the foundation of the church that was built more than a century ago, and a pair of singers have arrived to continue its tradition.

The Rev. Drew McHolm and his wife, Cedar Falls native Jesse Boatright, have left their parsonage in Austin, Texas, to lead the congregation that sits just outside of Nashua.

“So many people have told me about Midwest folks, and it’s all true,” McHolm told The Waterloo-Cedar Falls Courier . “We’ve been really blessed and made to feel totally welcome from not only the folks in the church, but the community in Nashua has been really great.”

The Scottish-born minister is stepping in for the church’s full-time pastor, John Granchie, while he is on sabbatical. McHolm leads the congregation each Sunday with services at 10:30 a.m., preceded by an old-fashioned sing-along at 10:15 a.m.

Boatright, a Cedar Falls native and featured singer with the Sentimental Journey Orchestra out of San Antonio, is pushing the historic church into modern times with a Facebook page and website.

“People don’t realize it’s an actual operating church,” she said. “We just want people to realize that this church could die like any other church if it’s not supported. We want to bring people in that will understand the importance of the historical value of the church that rings true across the Midwest.”

The rural church features a 50-person congregation along with organ music and old hymns of the faith, which contrasts with the urban churches with contemporary music — drums, bass, guitar — McHolm has been a part of.

“I’m loving it. It’s taking me back to my past,” he said. “It’s the people that make the place. You can have a big congregation but if the people are not friendly, what’s the point? The people are incredibly friendly here.”

Built in 1864, the church was made famous by the poem, “Church in the Wildwood,” which was written about the Nashua site before the church was even built. The poem was turned into a song and has been sung by well-known artists including Andy Griffith, Dolly Parton and the Statler Brothers.

To date there have been more than 75,000 marriage vows performed at the church.

McHolm and Boatright, both talented musicians, perform old-folk and country tunes together at the church and other locations around the Cedar Valley, including Cliff’s Place in Horton, the Hide-A-Way Lounge in Ionia and NewAldaya Lifescapes in Cedar Falls.

The couple will perform at the Hide-A-Way on Dec. 7 and will host a country Christmas special at Cliff’s Place Dec. 27.

The couple plan to offer a DVD of the Old-Fashioned Christmas service this year. Some dress in Victorian-style clothes, with hats and mufflers. There will be traditional carols and guest musicians.

“The congregation wants to see it remain a historic place, but they don’t want to see it fade into history,” McHolm said.

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Information from: Waterloo-Cedar Falls Courier, http://www.wcfcourier.com

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