[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.]

We love the great hymns, don’t we? But the words, or lyrics, of hymns are poetry. And poetry is sometimes difficult to understand. So often people sing the words of a hymn for years and love those words, but they don’t fully understand them. As an English professor I encounter this problem many times with many people—including myself! So in GREAT HYMN! WHAT’S IT MEAN? We’ll look at short phrases of great hymns and together we can figure out their meaning and understand them better and therefore love the hymns even more.

Night snow

We’ll start with “Silent Night.” This hymn was written in the German language and later translated into English, and when that happens there is often a further difficulty. Let’s look at the first two groups of words:

Silent night, holy night!

This group of words is actually an independent unit, a kind of exclamation, and stand by themselves. But most word groups in hymns are sentences: you start with the first word, usually capitalized, find the subject and the verb, and read until you get to the period or question mark or other end punctuation mark such as these: . ; : ? !

So the next sentence is

All is calm, all is bright; [A]Round yon[der] virgin and child.

Here’s where the confusion often comes in. Because we all pause for breath after the word “bright” we tend to disconnect the first line from the second. Actually then, the sentence stars with “All” and ends with “child” and reads “All is calm and bright around the virgin and child over yonder.”

Bethlehem, Israel, from Tantur

More next blog.


[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.]

An abandoned factory by a now-clean stream is about as good a symbol of the former days of Hebden Bridge [England] as you’ll find, I suppose. It looks like something out of Dickens: monotonous rows of windows that were inserted, not for aesthetics, but for light enough for workers to do their equally monotonous jobs. This is Yorkshire, where the skies are gray and the moors are bleak and Emily Bronte wrote her morose Wuthering Heights.


Abandoned factory in Hebden Bridge

Fortunately, I guess, the artists came over the last decade or two, so now this factory town is something of an art haven. Up the hill is Wainsgate Church, where John Fawcett was the preacher when he wrote “Blest Be the Tie.” You probably know the story, and I’ll talk about that in another blog. But for now, let’s be aware that not all English hymns were written around green pastures dotted by sheep. It’s kind of bleak here, but a preacher came to bring hope and good news.

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

John and Charles Wesley were two of eighteen children born to their parents, so I suppose finding a way to make yourself stand out was even more of a challenge than with most of us with siblings. Still, they didn’t have much trouble. John’s indomitable will and apparent leadership skills caused him to excel inevitably, especially after he and Charles came to Oxford. The Wesley rooms in Lincoln College breathe his presence.

John also influenced Charles to go on the not-so-successful journey to America for mission work. They didn’t stay long and returned to England. Charles kept on following his brother, though, which led him to settle with John in Bristol and buy a house there for the family. This was not far from New Room, which John built for his school, for worship, and for a meeting place for Methodist ministers.
blog 11-4_img1b

One of the most intriguing features of the large meeting room is the pulpit, or more accurately the pulpits. There are two, one behind and higher than the other. This arrangement allowed both brothers to do what they did best. John preached from the higher one (naturally), but Charles had his opportunity to sing from the lower. Many of the great hymns that he composed (hymns like “A Charge to Keep I Have,” Christ the Lord is Risen Today,” “Jesus, Lover of My Soul,” “Hark,! The Herald Angels Sing”) were first led from this pulpit. It’s rare that you can find an exact spot where history was made, but that approximately six feet of space is one of the great places in hymnody.

[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.]

Philip Doddridge, author of “O Happy Day,” set the standard for industry and toughness. He got up every morning at 5:00, and at least one of his students must have gotten up then too, because Philip had a student read to him while he was shaving so as not to waste time. I’m doing well to get up by 6:30 and listen to the Today show while munching through a bowl of shredded wheat.

My father was a preacher, and we lived on a modest level while I was growing up. But I was the only child at home during those years: my brother and sister were grown and married. Life was not that hard for me. Philip was the twentieth child of his parents, and only he and one sister survived past childhood. He later recalled how his mother taught him Bible stories from the pictures on the blue-and-white Dutch tiles of the fireplace. Both parents were dead by the time he was thirteen, and an appointed guardian wasted what little inheritance he was supposed to get. That’s an ordeal I never came close to having to face.

Still, Philip performed so well at the Dissenting Academy at Kibworth in Leicestershire that when the headmaster died he was asked to become headmaster himself. That started him on a brilliant but demanding career as educator and preacher.

I’ve found that people raised in fairly comfortable circumstances are still often hard workers and quite disciplined. But I must recognize that a hard life surely produced a tireless and impressive man in Philip. Doing hard work on the farm and working your way through school are not the only keys to success, but I’ll grant that in many cases like Philip’s they may have been better than today’s computer at age twelve and a car at age sixteen.

[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.]

If you’re blogging about or traveling around England to the famous hymn sites you think of as stellar places, Lewtrenchard Manor is one of the top ten. It’s the home of Sabine Baring-Gould, writer of “Onward Christian Soldiers,” and a few centuries of his ancestors and descendants. It’s located in Devon, a county in the coastal west corner of England: real country.

The place is the epitome of sumptuous country living. I’d recommend you just Google it and read the home page description. Especially if you’re looking for the ultimate for a honeymoon or fortieth anniversary trip or whatever.

I’ll probably return to Lewtrenchard frequently in these pages, because it’s got beauty and sophistication and ghosts. But today I’ll talk about having what what we thought was “high tea.”

Actually, high tea is dinner. What we had on the veranda in front of the mansion was actually, reasonably enough, “afternoon tea” or “low tea,” called that in part because it was usually served on low tables in a drawing room.

Anyway, Jill, Paul, and I opted to enjoy this (and pay for it). Paul’s Irish, so he helped us understand what we were doing. We were under an umbrella and the only party there, which made it comfortable. An attractive young lady in black dress with white apron served us. She was altogether all together in demeanor, a really nice, candid girl. She kind of looked like this was new to her—not her first time to serve, but not a veteran either. One or two things didn’t go just perfectly, which she was refreshingly open about. Actually, that made us more relaxed, in turn.

I really don’t remember much about the tea part, so I’ll brush up for the future. My friend, LaGard, once told me something about what goes in the tea cup first. But we had fine tea with sugar, real cream, of course (no lemons in English tea). The real treat is the cakes and pastries. We had something like a cookie, but the winner was scones and Devon clotted cream.  A scone is a quick bread like a tall, dense biscuit with a little sugar in and on top of it. But what you go for is the clotted cream. This is straight in-your-face rebellion against all health rules trying to keep you away from high fat. But, of course, it’s delicious. You put in on your scone, have a sip of tea, and sit back and enjoy a really nice social experience with your friends.

Sabine probably did this every day. The English know how to live, and tea is one of the pivotal moments of the day.

More on Lewtrenchard Manor later.

If you’re interested, here is the dessert menu off the Lewtrenchard web page:

  • Chocolate Tart with Comfit Kumquats with Orange and Cardamom Ice Cream
  • Pink Champagne Mousse with Strawberry Compote and Strawberry Sorbet
  • Passion  fruit Cheesecake with Raspberries marinated with Vanilla and Mint
  • Lewtrenchard’s  Crème Brulée with Banana and Passion Fruit Sorbet with Butterscotch Sauce
  • White Chocolate and Pear Terrine with kiwi, Lime and Fennel and a Lychee Sorbet
  • Rhubarb Jelly with Ginger Sorbet and Poached Rhubarb
  • Fresh Lewtrenchard Strawberries with Shortbread Biscuits and Devon Clotted Cream
  • Vanilla Pannacotta with Blackberry and Basil Compote, Crème Anglaise and Vanilla Tuiles
  • Caramelised Pineapple with Malibu Sorbet and Coconut Tuiles
  • Glazed Lemon Tart with Cassis Ice Cream
  • Tiramisu with Amaretto Ice Cream and Almond Biscuits