Two of Fred Kaan's Hymns for Easter and Good Friday

By Arnold, Kimberly D. | The Hymn, Winter 2020 | Go to article overview

Two of Fred Kaan's Hymns for Easter and Good Friday


Arnold, Kimberly D., The Hymn


One does not have to look far when researching Fred Kaan (1929-2009), FHS, to realize he played a major role in influencing twentieth-century hymnody on a global scale. Kaan's texts appear in multiple hymnals from other nations, such as, Australian Hymnal, Cantate Domino (World Council of Churches), Magnificat for a New Millennium (Norway), New Songs of Asian Cities (Hong Kong), Thuma Mina (Germany), and Voices United (Canada).

Kaan was raised in Holland during World War II, where he saw wartime and famine first-hand. His family was greatly affected by the war, with his family working with the Dutch Resistance and three of his grandparents dying of starvation during the war.1 These experiences helped shape his focus on the socio-political elements that are found throughout his hymns.

Kaan began his ministry as pastor in the United Reformed Church at Pilgrim Church in Plymouth, England, in 1963. His hymnwriting journey transpired from his career in the pulpit because he often composed texts that would complement his sermons. He stated that, "As I found myself more and more frustrated or bored or even angry at not finding what I felt we needed . . . I would reluctantly sit down and stammeringly write my own text, generally late on Saturday night or early on Sunday morning."2 As Kaan expanded his hymn repertoire, he eventually published Pilgrim Praise3 for his home church, which then led to commissions from fellow ministers and clergy. Pilgrim Praise was an influential collection that helped set Kaan's feet firmly in the twentieth-century hymn revolution of England.

While not considering himself a hymnwriter by profession, Kaan wrote over 200 hymns that have been translated into more than fifteen languages. He and other distinguished hymnists, Fred Pratt Green and Brian Wren, became part of what Erik Routley called the "hymn explosion" during the 1960s and 1970s.4 Kaan felt that there was a gap between what Christians were singing in their churches and how they responded to Christ in their daily lives. His hymnwriting and translating reflects the importance he placed on helping Christians sing and live out their faith in practical terms. He adopted the mantra "Mind the gap," which meant his goal was to "mind the gap between what happens in church and what needs to be done after the blessing; mind the gap between receiving the broken bread at the table/ altar and breaking bread with the world's hungry."5

Kaan typically wrote and translated hymns to bring awareness of the social and political issues of his day, which helped him transcend denominational differences and allowed his hymns to be published in a variety of ecumenical hymnals. Kaan's most famous hymn is "For the healing of the nations," which he wrote for Human Rights Day in 1965. This hymn is published in forty-eight hymnals, including The United Methodist Hymnal (1989), Moravian Book of Worship (1995), Catholic Book of Worship HI (Canada, 1994), and Complete Anglican Hymns Old and New (U.K., 2000). Throughout his career, Kaan held such employment as: Minister and General Secretary of the International Congregational Council in Geneva, Switzerland; Executive Secretary for World Alliance of Reformed Churches; co-producer of the monthly radio program Intervox, broadcast from Geneva; and Moderator of the West Midlands Province of the United Reformed Church in the United Kingdom.

In addition to writing and translating hymns that emphasized social and political issues, Kaan's goal was to put texts into contemporary language so all could sing their faith with ease. Other well-known texts of his include "Now let us from this table rise," "Let us talents and tongues employ," and "Help us accept each other."

"Christ is risen!"

Fred Kaan translated the original text of "Cristo vive" from the Argentinian poet Nicolas Martinez. Martinez's hymn first appeared in the hymnal Cantico Nuevo in 1960,6 and later in the ecumenical hymnal Cantate Domino, 1974 edition. …

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Two of Fred Kaan's Hymns for Easter and Good Friday
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