Fred Pratt Green: The other Methodist hymn writer

Fred Pratt Green The other Methodist hymn writer
The late Rev Fred Pratt Green ©Methodist Recorder, UK. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Through the years, changes in worship style, culture, and musical preferences have increased the variety of congregational songs. There are hymns, contemporary songs, psalm settings, global songs, Asian hymns, gospel songs—among other genres. Which genre does your congregation love to sing?

The music we sing reflects our identity. As Methodists, we sing the hymns of Charles and John Wesley. More than just keeping tradition, the Wesleyan hymns offer a music diet that is robust in Scripture, theology, doctrine and Christian discipleship.

Aside from the Wesleyan hymns, there are other Methodist composers whose texts help shape our Christian identity. I particularly want to mention Rev Fred Pratt Green (1903-2000), a Methodist minister in Britain from 1928-1969. He was a gifted poet, and only started writing hymn texts after his retirement, yet was acclaimed to be the greatest hymn writer after Charles Wesley. He was the leader of the “Hymn Explosion” in Great Britain in the 1970s, a movement of hymn writers who believed it was time to write texts that spoke about their time.

These hymn writers felt the responsibility to fill the gap in hymnody, particularly in themes pertaining to social justice, racial equality, world peace, environmental issues, and the like. Rev Green acknowledged hymn writing as, “a fascinating assignment. I had no doubt at all that if, as a poet, I had complete liberty to choose my themes, my forms, and language, to please myself, now, as a hymn writer I must become a servant of the Church, writing what was suitable to be sung in an act of worship”.1

In a world full of anxiety over the future, disagreements in beliefs and heightened materialistic values, Rev Green’s hymns are worth exploring. For example:

If our hearts are lifted where devotion soars
high above this hungry, suffering world of ours,
lest our hymns should drug us to forget its needs,
forge our Christian worship into Christian deed.

Stanza 2 [UMH 592], Fred Pratt Green

The phrase, “lest our hymns should drug us to forget its needs…,” reminds us to be mindful of the songs we sing. If music helps shape our identity, we need to make sure we also sing songs that heighten our awareness of the world around us and call us to respond.

Rev Green has contributed much and was very committed to writing congregational songs. Like Charles Wesley, Rev Green wrote about the Christian experience. He gave emphasis on the life and death of Jesus, hymns on Communion and profound theology. Both advocated the virtue of social holiness. However, they spoke from and for different generations.

We need song writers to learn from Charles Wesley and Rev Green, and write songs that will speak to the generation today.

With the vast amount of music resources available for worship, we need a balanced diet for the congregation. It is crucial that we curate songs that ground us biblically and theologically, strengthen us emotionally, and form us spiritually. It may be taxing, but it is a discipline we need to undertake. Whether it be a hymn, a contemporary song, a psalm or a choral anthem—let them be songs that form and shape us to be like Jesus.

1 Bernard Braley, The Hymns and Ballads of Fred Pratt Green (Carol Stream, IL: Hope Pub., 1982).

Popular hymns written by Fred Pratt Green

  • When in Our Music God is Glorified (UMH 68)
  • For the Fruits of This Creation (UMH 97b)
  • When Our Confidence is Shaken (UMH 505)
  • God is Here! (UMH 660)
  • O Christ, the Healer (UMH 265)

Judith Laoyan-Mosomos is the Director for Worship & Church Music at the Methodist School of Music, and a member of Kampong Kapor Methodist Church. / Photo courtesy of Methodist Recorder, UK