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

We thought you might be interested in how Abide With Me: A Photographic Journey Through Great British Hymns go started, so I’ll talk about the chronology a little over the next few weeks.

Paul Seawright and I met in Wales. In 2002 I was in the Cotswolds in England working on a manuscript on religious values in Shakespeare’s plays (that’s finished and available if you’d like to read a chapter), and I drove to Newport, Wales, to go to church each Sunday. I met Paul there and learned he was an international photographer. Never miss an opportunity. I started dreaming of projects I might talk him into. One was photographing scenes mentioned in Shakespeare’s plays, which I’d still like to do.

But eventually in 2006 we settled on the sites of great British hymns. In part this was possible because Jerry Rushford, church historian at Pepperdine University in Malibu, was very knowledgeable about these and led tours there. He very generously gave us a copy of his itinerary for investigative tour several years before. It proved to be extraordinarily helpful, and we were set.

Jill [my wife] and I taught in Lipscomb University’s Study Abroad program the summer of 2006. We planned to spend a week at the close of the term traveling with Paul.  First, though, we thought we’d look around London for future photographic ventures. About the first site we tried was the Moravian Cemetery at Fetter Lane Memorial Church. The church was supposed to be open 3:00-4:00 Sunday afternoon. We finally found it, but not while it was open. But the minister’s name and phone number were on a sign outside, so I called him. I may have interrupted his football game on TV, but he told me to knock on the gate to the back yard where the cemetery was, adjoining some apartments. Sure enough, we got in thanks to some people having a cookout. We wandered around the rather bleak yard. We were looking for the grave of William Hammond (1719-1783), who wrote “Lord, We Come Before Thee Now.” Never did find it, but we’d been there and got a shot of the cemetery.

Moral Victory.

More later.  John


[Today’s article is by Paul Seawright, the award-winning photographer for the newly released book, Abide With Me, from New Leaf Press.] 

Our first exploratory trip around Britain on the trail of sites relevant to great hymn writers was almost four years ago. I was living in Wales at the time, yet most of the places we visited were as new to me as they were to John [Parker] who lives in Nashville, Tennessee.

It’s always better to photograph unfamiliar places as they inevitably surprise you. We had both researched the sites and thought we knew what we might find and photograph. In reality it was often incidental moments and situations that presented the most inspirational subject matter.

Close to the end of our first tour of England we arrived in the small coastal town of Brixham in Devon. We had been fortunate enough to secure rooms at the Berry Head Hotel, perched on a rocky peninsula overlooking a beautiful bay. It was late afternoon and as John descended the path from the garden down to the sea, I began to make photographs of the evening sun playing on the side of the sprawling Victorian building, once the home of Henry Lyte. As I worked in the fading light a man sat on a bench in the garden to enjoy the setting sun over the water. It was as I photographed him silhouetted against the sky that I knew the project would be a success.

Henry Lyte wrote the words, “Abide with me, fast falls the eventide, when darkness deepens, Lord with me abide,” in this very garden. He, too, had looked out over that exact view all those years ago as the sun fell. The seascape I was photographing was as unchanged as the words that it inspired; words still sung in churches all over the world. At breakfast I showed John the picture of the anonymous man in Lytes garden and immediately we started making new plans…