IN HER introduction, Jan Berry, a minister of the United Reformed Church, informs the user that this collection of hymns comes out of the Hymns for Healing Project, an attempt to gather theologians, biblical scholars, hymn-writers, and musicians funded by the Pratt Green Trust at Holy Rood House, a retreat and therapeutic centre in Thirsk.
The hymns are “offered for all those who share a desire and passion to reimagine and refresh the Church’s ancient ministry of healing”, and are grouped under the headings: Healing in our Lives, Healing in Today’s World, Christ the Healer, Healing in Life’s Transitions, and Singing our Prayers. Each section is prefaced with an explanatory text. The volume has helpful indexes.
Coming alongside someone in their suffering is admirable, as is trying to voice another’s pain; mental health, ageing, dementia, giving birth, asylum-seekers, prostitution, urban unrest, genetic sequencing, stillbirth, and gender identity all find a voice here.
There are some successful re-workings of familiar Christmas carols, including “O little town of Bethlehem” and “God rest ye merry”; many of the hymns have tunes written specifically for them, and much of the music writing makes good use of simple, folksong-like melodies.
The majority proclaim the despairing cry of broken and agonised people; some even acknowledge the presence of God alongside those who suffer, but very few offer even glimpses of hope or a genuine openness to the potential of God’s transformative healing love.
Many of the hymns suggest a world in which humanity exists in a darkness that overcomes beauty, goodness, kindness, or hope. The underlying theology is often deistic rather Trinitarian, and there are few specifically Christian hymns: the first 12 speak only of “God”; “Spirit” makes a brief appearance in hymn 13 and the first mention of the incarnate Word comes in hymn 14 in a reference to “Christa”.
There is certainly a pastoral need for a new collection of hymns rooted in the first-hand experience of those who are hurting, but I am not sure that those who have contributed to this collection have done enough to craft searing personal experience into words that many Christians will be comfortable to sing, or would wish to sing again and again.
Canon Stephen Evans is Rector of St Marylebone, home to the St Marylebone Healing and Counselling Centre, and the Marylebone (NHS) Health Centre, in London.
Hymns of Hope and Healing: Words and music to refresh the Church’s ministry of healing
Jan Berry and Andrew Pratt, editors
Stainer & Bell £12.50