Minister in the United Reformed Church
Born June 3, 1936, at Romford, Essex, England
Brian Wren studied at Oxford, taking degrees in Modern Languages and Theology. From 1965 to 1970 he pastored the Hawkley and Hawkwell Congregational Church, Essex. Then he served as a consultant to the British Council of Churches (1970-1975) and worked with Third World First, an organization devoted to reducing global hunger (1976-1983). From 1983 to 2000 Wren free lanced, until he took a position as professor at Columbia Theological Seminary, Decatur, Georgia (2000-2007).
Wren’s first marriage, which resulted in two children, ended in 1989. Two years later he married the Reverend Susan Heafield (pronounced Hayfield), a United Methodist pastor and composer. In 2010 Heafield is the pastor of Paupack United Methodist Church, Paupack, Pennsylvania.
Wren’s reputation rests on his numerous hymns. A partial list follows:
- Arise, Shine Out, Your Light Has Come
- As Man and Woman We Were Made
- Bring Many Names
- Christ is Alive!
- Christ is Risen! Shout Hosanna!
- Christ Loves the Church
- Christ Upon the Mountain Peak
- Come, Celebrate the Call of God
- Deep in the Shadows of the Past
- God is One, Unique, and Holy
- God of Many Names
- Great God, Your Love Has Called Us Here
- Her Baby, Newly Breathing
- Here Am I
- Here Hangs a Man Discarded
- How Can We Name a Love
- I Come with Joy
- In Water We Grow
- Joyful is the Dark
- Let Hope and Sorrow Now Unite
- Lord God, Your Love Has Called Us Here
- Lord, When You Came to Jordan
- Sing My Song Backwards
- There’s a Spirit in the Air
- This is a Day of New Beginnings
- We Are Not Our Own
- We Are Your People
- We Thank You, God, for Water, Soil, and Air
- What Was Your Vow and Vision
- When All is Ended
- When Christ was Lifted from the Earth
- When God is a Child
- When Love is Found
- Woman in the Night
Frequent features of Wren’s hymns are inclusive language and an emphasis on social justice. In a 2000 interview with Christian Century magazine Wren criticized the language of lordship and kingship common in contemporary praise songs and choruses. Such imagery, he said, is outdated in a world dominated by representative government. Also, he stated his preference for hymnody as a collective experience, not a solo performance.
Bring Many Names (1989; revised in 1994):
Bring many names, beautiful and good,
celebrate, in parable and story,
holiness in glory, living, loving God.
Hail and hosanna! Bring many names!
Strong mother God, working night and day,
planning all the wonders of creation,
setting each equation, genius at play:
Hail and hosanna, strong mother God!
Warm father God, hugging every child,
feeling all the strains of human living,
caring and forgiving till we’re reconciled:
Hail and hosanna, warm father God!
Old, aching God, grey with endless care,
calmly piercing evil’s new disguises,
glad of good surprises, wiser than despair:
Hail and hosanna, old aching God!
Young, growing God, eager, on the move,
saying no to falsehood and unkindness,
crying out for justice, giving all you have:
Hail and hosanna, young, growing God!
Great, living God, never fully known,
joyful darkness far beyond our seeing,
closer yet than breathing, everlasting home:
Hail and hosanna, great, living God!
I Come with Joy (1971):
I come with joy to meet my Lord,
forgiven, loved, and free,
in awe and wonder to recall
his life laid down for me.
I come with Christians far and near
to find, as all are fed,
the new community of love
in Christ’s communion bread.
As Christ breaks bread and bids us share,
each proud division ends.
That love that made us makes us one,
and strangers now are friends.
And thus with joy we meet our Lord.
His presence, always near,
is in such friendship better known:
we see and praise him here.
Together met, together bound,
we’ll go our different ways,
and as his people in the world,
we’ll live and speak his praise.
Christ is Alive! Let Christians Sing (1969; revised in 1995):
Christ is alive! Let Christians sing.
The cross stands empty to the sky.
Let streets and homes with praises ring.
Love, drowned in death, shall never die.
Christ is alive! No longer bound
to distant years in Palestine,
but saving, healing, here and now,
and touching every place and time.
Not throned above, remotely high,
untouched, unmoved by human pains,
but daily, in the midst of life,
our Savior with the Father reigns.
In every insult, rift, and war
where color, scorn or wealth divide,
Christ suffers still, yet loves the more,
and lives, where even hope has died.
Women and men, in age and youth,
can feel the Spirit, hear the call,
and find the way, the life, the truth,
revealed in Jesus, freed for all.
Christ is alive, and comes to bring
good news to this and every age,
till earth and sky and ocean ring
with joy, with justice, love, and praise.
During the last few years Wren has suffered from a series of strokes. Let us pray for him and honor his life’s work.
KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR
MARCH 3, 2010 (THE FEAST OF JOHN AND CHARLES WESLEY)