Verses for teaching the faith

30 November 2006

Christ Triumphant and other Hymns
Michael Saward

Jubilate Hymns Free of charge (0-95055-899-0)

Ian Bradley reviews Michael Saward’s free-of-charge hymn collection, and Jane Williams’s new book about angels

MICHAEL SAWARD, who retired in 2000 after 43 years in Anglican ministry, the last nine spent as Canon Treasurer of St Paul’s Cathedral, has been a leading figure in hymnological circles both in the Church of England and beyond.

Particularly associated with the Jubilate Hymns project and Hymns for Today’s Church, which sought to make classic hymns more accessible for modern congregations, he is almost certainly best known as the author of “Christ triumphant, ever reigning”, which has found its way into 143 hymn-books around the world, set either to his close friend Michael Baughen’s Christ Triumphant or John Barnard’s equally stirring Guiting Power.

This compact book, which is dedicated to his colleagues in the Jubilee Group and offered free to all who are interested, brings together 75 hymns and psalm paraphrases written by Saward between 1962 and 2006. Several are accompanied by tunes. They stand alongside the more prolific offerings of Timothy Dudley-Smith as clearly and simply written restatements of key tenets of orthodox Christian beliefs, conservative both in theology and structure, but not without a freshness and power in their imagery and content.

There is a good range of subject-matter, with several Christmas hymns and others for occasions such as baptisms (Saward’s “Baptised in water” is his second most popular hymn, found in 38 books), standing alongside general hymns of praise and those with a specifically Christocentric focus. I particularly warmed to “Happy are those who acknowledge their need, theirs is the kingdom of heaven”, written to be sung to the folk-tune Here’s to the Maiden, which won a BBC Songs of Praise hymn competition in 1984; and “God of the garden”, set to Ye Banks and Braes, which locates God in the Garden of Eden, the garden of pain, the garden by the tomb, and the garden yet-to-be.

It is also good to see Saward asserting in “O Sacrifice of Calvary” the doctrine of Christ’s eternal intercession in heaven, which is not sufficiently touched on in Anglican hymnody.

As one who has been critical of Hymns for Today’s Church and its attempts to rewrite the classics of English hymnody (though I am not sure that we in the Church of Scotland have done the job much better in the new fourth edition of the Church Hymnary), I am delighted to commend this book, which shows that the art of writing clear and effective hymns in a traditional mode but with a contemporary feel is still alive and well in the Church of England.

Available from Michael Saward, 6 Discovery Walk, London E1W 2JG, free of charge; £1 p. & p.

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