Review – More than Hymns: Words for a Lyrical Faith – Janet Wootton – Hymn Society Bulletin 288, 2016 p2 56

Andrew Pratt, More than Hymns: Words for a Lyrical Faith, Stainer & Bell, London, 2015, 190 pp. including indexes, ISBN 978-0-85249- 944-3

I have been privileged to know Andrew Pratt, and to know him specifically as a hymn writer, for many years. I have respected the integrity of his faith and his willingness to face some of the most intractable issues in life and to reflect these with compassion but uncompromisingly in his poetry and hymns.

The preface traces some of the developments in his theological understanding, through a perception of faith which avowedly ‘never can be static’. His exploration into Progressive Christianity builds on an already questioning approach, within a ‘dynamic yet consistent Christian faith’. The bedrock of that faith, which he says is ‘so far unchanged’, is, ‘the unerring presence of Love and the centrality of the human Jesus’. [18]

The present book contains 144 new texts, which continue to push at the boundaries of faith and understanding. The hymns are arranged thematically. Each section is introduced, and each hymn followed by notes on the situation of its writing, its relation to scripture, and its place in Andrew’s own theology. At first, the list of contents looks pretty traditional: creation, Jesus, the Church, society.
But the section on creation moves straight into theodicy, the problem of evil, and then to a grouping under a quotation from Sydney Carter to which Pratt also refers in his preface, ‘Nothing fixed or final’. The challenge is there from the start. The problem of evil and the provisionality of understanding are rooted right there in creation, rather than, as in many collections, among hymns on the world or the human condition.

The hymns on the life of Jesus continue Pratt’s contribution to the tradition of writing that focuses not only on the birth, death and resurrection of Jesus, but also powerfully on his life and teaching. These sections concentrate on a few passages. In the case of the ministry of Jesus, the central focus is the Beatitudes, including an amazing text based on The Message version: ‘At the end of your rope? You are blessed! That is strange’ (no. 35).

Since his last collection of hymns, Pratt has been involved in writing for the three years of the Revised Common Lectionary, for the online resources, Twelve Baskets, now called The Worship Cloud. It may be thanks to this, which Andrew calls a ‘discipline’, that there are hymns to take us through Holy Week and to Pentecost, under the title, ‘Jesus – the last days’.

I find it a little strange that Pentecost is subsumed under Jesus, and, in fact, there is little on the Spirit of God. Maybe this is part of Pratt’s powerfully incarnational theological stance. In fact, it is something of a delight that ‘Holy risk-taker’ appears in the index, but not Holy Spirit. On the other hand, the Pentecost ‘end’ of ‘Jesus – the last days’ is an Andrew Pratt tour de force, starting: ‘Eternal fury fires the saints/who shake and rattle, push and shove’ and ends: ‘God hangs beyond the edge of hope,/ outside the church, beyond the walls’ (no. 62).

There are hymns to challenge the church, in its making sense of scripture, and its worship. The voices from scripture are not those of comfort, but convey a sophisticated interaction with biblical texts, worthy of the Wesleys in whose tradition Andrew Pratt stands. For him, as for the Wesleys, ‘sung words’ can be ‘part of the process of hermeneutics, of our reaching back to the original Hebrew and Greek … unlocking scripture and extending the limits of our interpretation’. [19]

The scriptural focus continues in ‘Something of society’, which brings what we know of Hebrew society into conversation with present day issues. What does monarchy look like, viewed against its Hebrew roots (no. 92)? How are human relationships, parenting, loving, lived out in the presence of the God of scripture?

And we are led onward into the varied circumstances of life, living with wealth, discrimination and injustice, through remembrance and grief to renewal.

Andrew Pratt’s writing has often been inspired by events, or by books or lectures, which sparked off ideas. Those who know him are used to seeing him ostensibly taking notes during a conference or meeting: well, yes, taking notes, but in verse, and at the end, producing a finished hymn. Or else we have found in our in-box, following a natural or human disaster, a text which fixes the event to the canvas of theology with pinpoint accuracy.

These are still here in this collection: for example, no. 142 was written on the death of Nelson Mandela. But more of these texts draw on Andrew’s own life experience, including, now, suffering and bereavement, which seem to claw their way to joy. The section on remembrance and grief includes a searing text, which he says comes from his experience as a telephone Samaritan, but also ‘through clinical depression following the death of my son, and through my own experience of cancer’, no. 131, which is about suicide. But no. 6, in the section on theodicy, takes on the full power of suffering: ‘when no angels flew about me,/when I thought I’d gone insane’, finds the way to praise through the God who ‘has plumbed the depths of darkness’, and goes on to pray for others whose lives are ‘dim and dark’.

Like many text writers who are not musicians, Andrew writes to existing hymn tunes. However, some of the hymns in this collection have tunes composed for them, in many cases by Finnish composer, Camilla Cederholm. Others are set to folk melodies, which are often included with the words. In one or two places, there is a closer interaction between text and tune. Hymn no. 13, for instance, ‘resulted from a conversation with the Revd Dr Jan Berry. We were discussing how some women who have survived abuse find the biblical image of Mary to be one of a survivor’. [20]  Though PADERBORN is suggested, the tune printed is NORTH COUNTRY MAID, which is, of course, about a young woman who, like Mary, is lonely and far from home.

Hymn 100 is set to MACPHERSON’S FAREWELL, which has a very specific movement of emotion through what in the original is a verse and chorus construction. The chorus part, with its driving three four rhythm, works well with the second half of the first two verses, particularly verse 2, where the first (fifth) line, ‘There is no hurt that is not felt’, gives a strong down beat emphasis to ‘is’ in each case. On the other hand, the first line ends in the word ‘partiality’, which is spun out over eight notes, and makes more sense in the alternative tune, KINGSFOLD.

Not all the texts are designed to be sung corporately. The stark Good Friday hymn at no. 47 is suggested as a solo, and the aforementioned text on suicide at no. 131, set to a tune by Cederholm, is written as a song (fully underlined under the tune), and ‘might be sung congregationally at a funeral, or performed by a soloist to give voice to the feelings of others.’ [21]

It is very hard to stop writing this review! There is far more to be said about this bombshell of a book. In the end, all I can say is that you have to read it for yourself. Use and sing the texts, read them as the edgy, shattering poems that they are. Let the imagery cannon around your mind. And be prepared to encounter scripture in vivid new ways.

Janet Wootton

 

Tax Justice Sunday Hymn – Our vulnerable God – www.catj.org.uk

Our vulnerable God suffered pain and temptation,
rode lightly to wealth, saw the greedy as flawed.
And we, as disciples, who walk in Christ’s footsteps
are challenged to follow, to love, not defraud.

Transparent in action, confronting injustice,
upbraiding the rich, while upraising the poor,
he called us to welcome the outcast, the homeless,
by giving, not taking, by opening each door.

Let taxes revalue the lost and discarded,
ensuring the powerful will equally share,
until all the world is redeemed for all people,
until inequality ends as unfair.

And now as we look to the world let us value,
each person, each neighbour of infinite worth,
through sharing and stewardship to lift up the lowly,
to raise out of poverty all upon earth.
Andrew Pratt 29/4/2019
Words © 2019 Stainer & Bell Ltd, London, England, http://www.stainer.co.uk.
Please include any reproduction for local church use on your CCL Licence returns. All wider and any commercial use requires prior application to Stainer & Bell Ltd.
Tune: STREETS OF LAREDO

Ascension hymn – There are no trumpets sounding out

1       There are no trumpets sounding out,
no fiery pillars in the sky,
no monumental signs that shake,
no prophets with a haunting cry.

2       A still small voice speaks to our time,
a baby weeping from its birth,
and all its being seems to cry:
‘now is the time to spin the earth’.

[Is this the echo of the Christ
once lying in a stable stall,
who preached and lived a life of love,
whose dying offered grace to all?] This original verse can be omitted

3       His every moment challenged those
who heard his call who shared his life,
to turn their values upside down,
to put an end to hate and strife.

4       Now is the moment, now the time,
to hear the cry, to heed the word,
for us to take the path he trod,
however crazy or absurd.

5       He has no voice but ours to cry,
no hands to touch those fraught with pain,
Ascended, he left us the task,
to bring his love to life again.

Words: Andrew E Pratt (born 1948) © 2015 Stainer and Bell Ltd.
Tune: GONFALON ROYAL

Good Samaritan – The foreigners that we reject can bring the grace of God to bear

1 A man lay beaten, left for dead,
his shattered, broken frame
spoke of the kicks that brought him down,
the blows that bruise and maim.
The ones who might have offered help
could give a reason why
they left him lying in the road,
they left him there to die.

2 They spoke of fear, they passed him by,
they left him in his pain;
too busy or too self–absorbed
to turn and look again.
The ones who could have helped walked on,
they passed and soon forgot,
but one who knew the cost of love
knelt down and shared his lot.

3 When people challenge or deny
our rights and break us down,
when others leave us desolate
and friends just laugh or frown;
The foreigners that we reject,
the ones we would despise,
can bring the grace of God to bear,
bring love into our lives.

4 And when we see another’s need
and feel another’s loss,
God give us courage and the strength,
the memory of your cross;
God give compassion, selfless care,
and strip away our pride,
then give us each the grace to love
the ones we might deride.

Andrew E Pratt (born 1948)
© 2008 Stainer & Bell Ltd. Please include on your CCL Licence return

The care of our planet, the threat of extinction – Hymn

The care of our planet, the threat of extinction,
alerts us to need to be stewards of the earth:
this place of great beauty, our God given tenure,
the place of our nurture, the globe of our birth.

This place we must guard for each new generation,
to leave as we found it or, better, restored;
to share each resource without greed or pretension,
not barring the needy, not plunder, nor hoard.

The  banquet of God is for all of God’s people,
communion companions are both rich and poor,
our ultimate end will remove all distinctions,
no birthright or creed can obstruct heaven’s door.

God’s common wealth love can encompass all nations,
but here in this place we must all make a start:
a life of acceptance of sister and brother,
the practice of loving, a God given art.

Andrew Pratt 1/5/2019
Words © 2019 Stainer & Bell Ltd, London, England, http://www.stainer.co.uk.
Please include any reproduction for local church use on your CCL Licence returns. All wider and any commercial use requires prior application to Stainer & Bell Ltd.
Written for the 140th Anniversary of St John’s Methodist Church Whitchurch, Shropshire.
Tunes: STREETS OF LAREDO; ST CATHERINES COURT

Hymn Festival – Paris

RSCM France

welcomes you to a unique event –

In association with the Hymn Society of Great Britain and Ireland…

JOIN US FOR OUR FIRST EVER

HYMN FESTIVAL

In the American Church, Quai d’Orsay, 75008 PARIS

1pm, Saturday 11th May 2019

The hymns, old and new, presented by noted hymnologist

Revd James Dickinson

Members of the RSCM France Singers conducted by

John Crothers

The von Beckerath Grand Organ played by

Malcolm Wisener

Booklet provided. Refreshments will follow our singing!

Suggested donation (at the door): €10

 

The American Church, Quai d’Orsay, Paris 8e

Cheltenham Christian Arts Festival

Your hymn book might hold enough for you, but then something happens in your local church or nationally, or internationally. You turn to HymnQuest. You search the themes and the chances are there’s something here. But, just occasionally, the words don’t fit.

Perhaps you could do better? But how to start.

On April 29th and 30th the Rev Drs Janet Wootton (Pratt Green Trust Vice-Chair) and Andrew Pratt (HymnQuest Editor), internationally known, published hymn writers are running hymn text writing workshops as part of the Cheltenham Christian Arts Festival. Find out more and sign on here: http://christianartsfestival.org/schedule/

Whether you have never written before or have published hymns there will be space for you to share and learn. Janet and Andrew look forward to seeing you.