ON 15 October, a large group of mostly elderly writers and composers of hymns will gather in All Souls’, Langham Place, next to Broadcasting House, to celebrate a notable event: the 50th anniversary of the publication of Youth Praise.
It was, in its modest way, a landmark in the history of worship in the Church of England. The work of a group of young Evangelical clergy and lay people, many of them influenced by the Billy Graham rallies of the previous ten years, its aim was to make traditional Anglican worship more attractive and recognisable to the young people who were being drawn into the churches.
If you could manage three basic chords on a guitar, you could accompany many of the songs, but among them were also many fine tunes and words which have stood the test of time.
Youth Praise was followed by Youth Praise 2, Psalm Praise, and then a “proper” hymn book, Hymns for Today’s Church, which for the first time provided a collection of both new and traditional hymns, but without a single “thee’, “thou”, or “thine”. This matched the new liturgies, of course, and was generally done with care, but inevitably it led to couplets such as this: “Where Jesus shared on bended knee The silence of eternity”, which did not go down well with everyone.
New hymns and songs
THE publishers of Youth Praise, Jubilate (funny that they chose a Latin name), had enlisted an array of gifted writers and composers, among them Chris Idle, Timothy Dudley-Smith, Richard Bewes, Michael Saward, Jim Seddon, and Michael Baughen. This was just before the era of the Charismatic worship songs, which, with the Taizé chants and the so-called “20th-century” tunes written by Patrick Appleford and his team, added richly to the variety of music available to congregations.
Not since the Victorians had the Church of England experienced such a deluge of new hymnody. It would be safe to say now, 50 years later, that there are very few churches of any denomination in the English-speaking world that are not familiar with hymns from the Youth Praise stable.
PERHAPS the most impressive evidence of the lasting quality of some of the Jubilate team’s work came at the end of the Queen’s 90th-birthday service at St Paul’s Cathedral this summer. The final hymn, rounding off a great national event, was “Lord for the years”, with words by one bishop, Timothy Dudley-Smith, and music by another, Michael Baughen.
Back in 1966 they were enthusiastic, gifted young clergy for whom Youth Praise and its successors were a way to channel hitherto largely hidden gifts. I recall Baughen playing the tune to “Lord for the years” to me before it was published. He recently reminded me that I said I thought it was a “winner”. I rest my case.
And Cliff Richard, too
ALSO taking part in that Youth Praise launch in 1966 was Cliff Richard, who was interviewed and tried out one of the songs. He was, of course, a household name and a celebrity, but, at that time, he was new to the Christian scene.
In our church in Finchley, north London, where he was a popular but largely anonymous member, he had already tried his hand at some of the songs. I remember an evening in the local old people’s home which we visited on Sundays to say a few prayers and sing a hymn or two. Cliff picked up his guitar and sang one of the new songs, and an elderly lady beckoned him over to her bed. “You’re very good,” she said. “You should take it up.”
It’s sad to see the way that one of these “historic abuse” allegations has blighted his later years, although not weakened his Christian faith.
My solemn vowel
IT IS not uncommon for people to misinterpret religious language. I remember a doctor once asking me what on earth the Prayer of Humble Access meant when it spoke of a God “whose property is always to have mercy”. I simply said, “What are the properties of aspirin?” and his face lit up with comprehension.
Last week, I learnt from a parish office administrator of the oddest misunderstanding I have yet come across. Twice she has received emails from different senders enquiring whether that church could offer a service for the “renewal of vowels”.
Should they do so, I could recommend a couple of broadcasters who might find it helpful.
End of the line
MY LAST book — and I do mean last — was published in July. Its subject is heaven: rethinking the destination. There is no sequel to be written to that. As someone helpfully pointed out at the book launch, my penultimate book, At the End of the Day, was about enjoying being old; now I had capped it with one about enjoying being dead.
The difference, of course, is that the previous book was at least largely based on actual experience. This last one, Heaven’s Morning, is based on hope and faith. Still, the apostle did say they are two of the three qualities that abide for ever.
Canon David Winter is a retired cleric in the diocese of Oxford, and a former head of religious broadcasting at the BBC.