Brian A. Wren, our local hymn writer, was born in Romford, Essex in 1936. His hymns are known throughout the world and have been influential in raising awareness of theology. So far, Wren has written around 250 hymns, many of which are familiar in our church.
Wren initially served in the British army for two years before attending Oxford University where he earned a degree in Modern languages in 1960, followed by a degree in Theology in 1962. After this, Wren studied for a PhD in Theology of the Old Testament, which he was awarded in 1968 after writing a thesis entitled The language of prophetic eschatology in the Old Testament.
Whilst studying for his PhD, Wren was ordained into the Congregational Church (now the URC) and became the minister at Hockley and Hawkwell Congregational Church in Essex. His wife, Susan M. Heafield is a United Methodist pastor.
When Wren left his church in 1970, he briefly served as the Consultant for Adult Education for the Churches’ Committee on World Development and the Coordinator of Third World First (now known as People and Planet). Between 1976 and 1983, he was a member of the Executive Board of the UK Aid Charity, after which he decided to return to ministry. In 2000, Wren became the Conant Professor of Worship at Columbia Theological Seminary, in Georgia, USA, eventually retiring in 2007. During this time, he was awarded an honorary Doctorate in Humane Letters from Christian Theological Seminary, Indianapolis.
Wren’s hymns have been published in seven books and appear in almost every hymnal. His hymn Hidden Christ, Alive For Ever was the runner up in the international Millennium Hymn Competition awarded at St Paul’s Cathedral in 2000. Wren believes, “a hymn is a poem, and a poem is a visual art form. The act of reading a hymn aloud helps to recover its poetry and its power to move us—the power of language, image, metaphor, and faith-expression.” He explores this concept in his book Praying Twice: The Music and Words of Congregational Song.
According to Wren, hymns should help people to “know and understand the meaning of God’s creating, self-disclosing and liberating activity centred and uniquely focused in Jesus Christ.” He was also determined to make hymns less male-orientated, removing words like “he” in order to make them more inclusive for women. Many churches have adopted this mindset as a result.
Of Wren’s many hymns, these are the ones in our hymnbook:
We are happy for you to use any material found here, however, please acknowledge the source: www.gantshillurc.co.uk
Rev'd Martin Wheadon