Through these positions he became recognized as a leading Episcopal church musician. Following his ordination in 1872, Hopkins served as rector of two parishes: Trinity Church in Plattsburg, New York (1872-1876) and Christ Church in Williamsport, Pennsylvania (1876-1887).
Rev. Hopkins wrote the hymn, “We Three Kings” in 1857, for an elaborate Christmas pageant that was presented at the Seminary in New York that Christmas. Hopkins traveled from New York to Vermont every Christmas, where his father, John H. Hopkins. Sr., was the long time Episcopal Bishop for the State of Vermont.
It is thought that Hopkins, a bachelor, wrote the carol with his nephews in mind, as the Hopkins family performed a dramatization of Matthew chapter 2, and the entire Christmas Story, every year. "We Three Kings" was sung by the family for the next two years, and was so popular with family and friends that by 1863 it had been published by Rev. Hopkins in his first collection of “Carols, Hymns, and Songs.” (See the entire book online here)
"We Three Kings" was the first Christmas Carol written in the United States to be included in the book "Christmas Carols Old and New," a prestigious and influential book of carols published in the UK. In 1916 the carol was printed in the hymnal for the Episcopal church. We Three Kings was also included in the "Oxford Book of Carols" published in 1928, which praised the song as "one of the most successful of modern composed carols."
“Because the wealth of USA Appalachian and other folk carols was yet to be discovered, this carol for almost a century was regarded by hymnal editors as the sole USA contribution to the repertory of English language carols,” wrote hymnal editor Carlton R. Young.
Hopkins also wrote the lesser-known carol, "Gather Around The Christmas Tree." His other publications include "Canticles Noted with Accompanying Harmonies" (1866) and "Poems by the Wayside" (1883), as well as a biography of his father, John Henry Hopkins Sr.
Hopkins delivered the eulogy at the funeral of President Ulysses S Grant in 1885.
The Christ Episcopal Church in Williamsport is the oldest standing church in Williamsport Pa, having survived several floods. Some of the stained glass windows were made by Tiffany and Company.