Famous hymn writer who linked faith and social justice has died

By staff writers
October 4, 2009

Fred Kaan, one of the great hymnwriters of the twentieth century and a minister of the United Reformed Church in Britain, has died at the age of 80. He passed away in the early hours of Sunday 4 October 2009.

Kaan's hymns are found in most Protestant English language hymn books. Among the best-known are ‘For the healing of the nations’ and ‘ Now let us from this table rise’.

He is also famous for the 1960s refrain 'Sing we a song of high revolt', penned to the tune of The Red Flag, which reflected his passionate commitment to social justice as an integral part of the Gospel message.

Although his health had been failing for some time, Fred Kaan was well enough to make a special appearance at the United Reformed Church General Assembly in 2008, where he took part in a public discussion with two other well known hymnwriters, Brian Wren and Alan Gaunt.

Born in the Netherlands, Kaan spent the war years under Nazi occupation, an experience which marked his life with a deep concern for peace and justice. In his late teens, for the first time, he began to attend church and was confirmed at the age of 18. He decided to study theology and psychology at Utrecht University.

On a visit to England, he stayed with a family belonging to a Congregational Church and was so impressed with Congregationalism that, when he decided to offer for the Christian ministry in 1952, he chose Western College.

After a first pastorate in Barry, in 1963 he was called to Pilgrim Church, Plymouth. It was there that he began to be known for his hymn writing. With his wide experience, his strong convictions and a gift for languages, after five years he became the minister-secretary of the International Congregational Council which united in the World Alliance of Reformed Churches.

In 1978, Fred Kaan returned to England to become the Moderator of the West Midlands Synod of the United Reformed Church. During this time he also served as an officer of the Council for World Mission, becoming its chairman. His final pastorate was in Swindon and he retired in 1990.

With his wife, Elly, Fred had two sons, Martin and Peter and a daughter, Alison. After Elly’s death, Fred married Anthea, who has cared for him devotedly in retirement and especially in his last few years.

The Rev Roberta Rominger, General Secretary of the United Reformed Church said: "We thank God for the gift to us of Fred Kaan, whose passion for peace and justice, ecumenical drive and ability to enable the Church to sing the faith in plain but moving speech have had a major influence on the Church in the last half of the twentieth century."

Keywords:Music | hymns | fred kaan
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