[Today’s post is by John H.Parker, co-author of the newly released book, Abide With Me, published by New Leaf Press. This account is from the travels of John and his co-author/photographer, Paul Seawright.]

One question raised about Abide with Me is how we selected the 24 hymns featured out of all of the thousands written during the last three centuries. Some answers are general. One of obvious popularity, such as with “Amazing Grace,” known to nearly every one and the title of a recent movie.

Another factor is the well-known story of the author, such as Newton’s slave trading and John Fawcett’s often-told story of deciding to give up a stable pulpit in London in order to stay with his poor flock at Wainsgate.

But one specific factor was based on research. An article in the journal The Hymn, published in July 1997 recorded the survey of 40 hymnbooks printed between 1976-1996. Included is a table of how many of the 40 hymnbooks published a given hymn. Clearly a hymn that was published in nearly all of the 40 is one of the world’s most beloved hymns. The highest ranking hymns and the number of times each appeared are below:

  • O (Our) God, our help in ages past – 39 times
  • Silent Night – 39
  • Amazing Grace – 38
  • Joy to the World – 38
  • Angels We Have Heard on High – 37
  • Hark! The Herald Angels Sing – 37
  • How Firm a Foundation – 37
  • Now Thank We All Our God – 37
  • O Come, All Ye Faithful – 37
  • Praise to the Lord, the Almighty – 37
  • All Hail the Power of Jesus’ Name – 36
  • For All the Saints Who from Their Labors Cease – 36
  • O, Sacred Head, Now Wounded – 36

You will probably see that some of these are hymns you rarely or never sing yourself, but differing church groups in differing English-speaking countries know differing hymns, and know them well. These, too, are factors in choosing which hymns to feature in a book.

[The newest book from New Leaf Press, Abide With Me, is focused on ‘place.’ It’s about the places and songwriters in England and Wales where the greatest British hymns were written, and where the stories of the men and women who wrote them unfolded. ]

On the north coast of England, for instance, silhouetted against the grey sky and dark sea, stand the ruins of Whitby Abbey. There in the sixth century a common sheepherder named Caedmon wrote the earliest surviving hymn penned in English. During the following centuries – Middle Ages, Renaissance, Eighteenth Century, Nineteenth Century – men and women devoted to Christ and blessed with the gift of poetry composed the words of English hymns sung in Britain, America, and around the globe. Generation after generation, these beautiful songs were sung in times of happiness, grief, joy, fear and wonder. Here are the places those writers lived and their life stories.

Stroll through the quaint Cotswolds, the beautiful Lake District, bustling London, and the glorious poppy-bedecked English countryside as you meet the great minds whose works have inspired, uplifted, and carried us through the tragedies and triumphs of our lives. This is a journey of the heart and soul – a meandering through your own spirituality.

“Speaking to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs.” Ephesians 5:19.

[Abide With Me will be released by New Leaf Press in April 2009. Order online and save 20%.]