Only a handful of writers who began over 130 years ago are still read by an ever-increasing family of readers. Grace Livingston Hill is one of those writers.
Her writing is often seen very differently by those who read it—and that's why it endures. It is at times a Christian life lesson, a romance, first-hand history, or even an outreach tool. The impact is as varied as the readers themselves.
No matter how we read Grace's books, they inspire us to reach new heights.
Grace's work and its simple message continue into a new century, always reminding us that God is the ultimate answer to every question—even in today's complicated world.
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Grace Livingston Hill spent most of her adult life in Philadelphia, and she must have dearly loved it. The city and its surroundings play a part in many of her books and those who study them can walk with her characters through the streets and into many of the buildings still standing today.
One of these landmarks is The Church of the Holy Trinity on Rittenhouse Square. This beautiful church was most likely the one "across the square" in The Girl from Montana. O Little Town of Bethlehem has a deep connection to Philadelphia. Rev. Phillips Brooks, who wrote the words to this beloved carol in 1868, pastored The Church of the Holy Trinity at that time. Today, its sanctuary is graced by a lovely mural of the Christmas Story.
We know that Grace attended an evening service there on December 7, 1919. There was an Organ Recital at half-past seven, and the Organist, Mr. Ralph Kinder, was "assisted by" Miss Ruth Glover Hill, Violinist. Ruth was an accomplished and much-sought-after soloist.
O LITTLE TOWN OF BETHLEHEM
Words by Phillips Brooks, 1867 and Music by Lewis H. Redner, 1868
O little town of Bethlehem, how still we see thee lie!
Above thy deep and dreamless sleep the silent stars go by.
Yet in thy dark streets shineth the everlasting Light;
The hopes and fears of all the years are met in thee tonight.
For Christ is born of Mary, and gathered all above,
While mortals sleep, the angels keep their watch of wondering love.
O morning stars together, proclaim the holy birth,
And praises sing to God the King, and peace to men on earth!
How silently, how silently, the wondrous Gift is giv’n;
So God imparts to human hearts the blessings of His Heav’n.
No ear may hear His coming, but in this world of sin,
Where meek souls will receive Him still, the dear Christ enters in.
Where children pure and happy pray to the blessèd Child,
Where misery cries out to Thee, Son of the mother mild;
Where charity stands watching and faith holds wide the door,
The dark night wakes, the glory breaks, and Christmas comes once more.
O holy Child of Bethlehem, descend to us, we pray;
Cast out our sin, and enter in, be born in us today.
We hear the Christmas angels the great glad tidings tell;
O come to us, abide with us, our Lord Emmanuel!
Grace Livingston Hill wrote several Christmas-themed novels and short stories. One of the most common events in those stories are the "Bethlehems" that her characters seem to whip up out of nothing—bits of crepe paper; a noah's ark set; an electric star; and blocks for those little flat-roofed houses with the outside staircases.
There were "chalk-drawing" Bethlehems, too. Grace was skilled at illustrating sermons wth this long-forgotten art. We use all sorts of multimedia presentations today, but our generation didn't invent this stuff—chalk drawings did the same thing and required much more talent than just pasting some clip art into a power point slide!
Well, these creations were not works of fiction, as I discovered looking through some of Grace's photo albums. In one of them (it was one of those great old albums with the black paper pages), I turned the page and just stopped. There it was! It was just as she described it, right down to the wooly lambs on the hillside.
I'm not sure exactly where this was taken, but judging from the other photos in the album, it's the porch outside her home in Swarthmore, Pennsylvania. A photo of the Christmas tree a few pages away is marked "about 1930".