John Lamberton Bell

By Gray, Nancy Wicklund | The Hymn, Autumn 2007 | Go to article overview

John Lamberton Bell


Gray, Nancy Wicklund, The Hymn


John Lamberton Bell has been honored by The Hymn Society in the United States and Canada at its annual conference in Ottawa from July 15-19 by being designated as a Fellow of the Hymn Society. Bell was honored as an innovative worship leader who has been a catalyst for renewal of the Church's song.

"Preaching and hymnody are my two terrestrial passions, largely because they are not solely for specialists but should affect the whole people of God." So John Bell describes himself in the introduction to States of Bliss & Yearning, a collection of his sermons.1 He also has given us "Ten Golden Rules for enabling the least confident of people to teach new songs to the most cynical of congregations," the first of which is: "Believe in the voice which God has given you. It is the voice of an apprentice angel."2

John Lamberton Bell was born in Kilmarnock, Scotland on 20 November 1949. His mother was a Christian, but his father, although agnostic until late in his life, respected the work of George MacLeod, the founder of the Iona Community.3 While at the University of Glasgow, John became familiar with the Community House, an Iona sponsored cafe and gathering place which also held daily worship.4

Also, while a student at Glasgow University, in 1974 he was elected president of the Students' Representative Council, and in 1977 he was elected Lord Rector of the University, an honor given in previous times to Disraeli, Gladstone and George MacLeod among others but never before to a student. Soon the rules were changed to prevent a student incumbent in the future.5

Following graduation from Trinity College in 1974, he was ordained to the Presbyterian ministry, and worked with English-speaking churches in Amsterdam for two years. In 1980 he became a member of the Iona Community. Working first as Youth Coordinator and a resource worker in worship and spirituality, he formed the Wild Goose Worship Group. In 1989, having completed his work as Youth Coordinator, he with his collaborator Graham Maule, formed the Wild Goose Resource Group, a group of eighteen members, whose mission is to "enable and equip congregations and clergy in the shaping and creation of new forms of relevant, participative worship."6 Because of his work with the Iona Community and his life in inner-city Glasgow, his songs are rooted in community. Bell was the Convener and music editor of the committee for the fourth edition of the Church of Scotland's Church Hymnary (2005). …

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