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John Keble-inspired priest pens hymns to be new every Sunday

09 October 2020

simon rowbory

The Revd Simon Rowbory, with a bust of John Keble

The Revd Simon Rowbory, with a bust of John Keble

THE 19th-century churchman John Keble, in his book The Christian Year, wrote a poem for every important day of the Church of England’s calendar. Now, the priest in charge of a church dedicated to his memory has followed his example by composing a hymn for every Sunday.

The Priest-in-Charge of John Keble Church, Mill Hill, in north London, the Revd Simon Rowbory, began his project in January, with the aim of producing a few hymns “as a one-off” for Easter. At the same time, he was looking for something to celebrate Keble’s legacy, and so decided to connect the two.

He eventually wrote 60 hymns. “At times, it felt like I had bitten off more than I could chew,” he said. “But then lockdown came, everything went a bit crazy, and I got through it quite quickly. At first, I thought I would be scraping around for material; but I had my Bible open at my side, and there really is more in there than can be fitted into one year.”

He plays the piano, but, on the advice of his churchwarden Diane Rees, who supervises the church’s music, he wrote almost all of them to fit existing hymn tunes. “I think composing new ones would have defeated me,” he said. Thus, for example, his Christmas hymn “Why would God send a child to save the world?” is set to the tune of “O little town of Bethlehem”, Forest Green, and his Easter hymn “Jesus the risen Son” uses the tune of “Crown him with many crowns”, Diademata.

“Diane has been very helpful in telling what would and would not work,” he said. “She has gone through each hymn, and sung them to find bits that didn’t scan or work.”

Current Covid restrictions mean that his congregation cannot yet sing them, but he is self-publishing his efforts this week under the title Christ’s Brightness: Hymns for the Christian year, and hopes to launch the collection on Advent Sunday. They will also be available, free, on the church website: www.johnkeble.org.uk.

Keble, a leader of the Oxford Movement, was Professor of Poetry at Oxford from 1831 to 1841. His poems were published in 1827, and several are still in use as hymns. Examples can be found in the Church Times online.

Christmas Eve
Theme: Prepare him room
Tune: Forest Green (DCM)

How can a baby save the world?
With every cry or smile?
By drinking milk or lullabies?
Why would God send a child?
But all his fullness one with us;
Heav’n comes down touching Earth;
Divine and human meet in him;
God given in this birth.

How can his Son descend to us?
To such a sorrowing sphere?
How can our God donate himself,
To take on every tear?
But love divine impelled this gift;
To enter and unite;
For Love himself has come in flesh;
To lift us to his height.

How can we rightly give him praise,
For giving us himself?
What can we give in our reply,
What offer from myself?
But Jesus waits to enter in;
To meet with us today;
So open hearts up to his love:
Prepare him room to stay.


Christmas 1
Theme: The birth of Christ
Tune: Little Heath (
Source: Luke 2.1-20
Alternative use: a verse can also be used for each Sunday in Advent at the lighting of the Advent candle.

Love was born in Bethlehem,
Love within the manger laid.
Love took flesh — a little child;
Light to make the darkness fade.
Love to set its home on Earth,
Dwelling in the world it made.
In the child of Bethlehem:
Love within the manger laid.

Hope was born in Bethlehem,
Gracious answer to all prayer.
Starlight in the raging night,
Coming bright’ning light of care.
Hope wrapped round in human flesh,
All our sorrows gladly bear,
Dawning light in Bethlehem:
O my heart do not despair.

“Peace was born in Bethlehem”
Angels sang abroad that night.
Glory in the highest heav’n
Peace to crown the highest height.
Fighting world of war and greed,
Coming Prince of Peace shall right.
Darkness fails in Bethlehem:
Peace has come to shed its light.

Joy was born in Bethlehem,
No good thing it shall withhold.
Happy God to give to us,
Promised grace and joy of old:
Sunshine of good gospel news,
Warms our frozen hearts from cold.
Shining out in Bethlehem:
Light of God in Christ behold.


Palm Sunday
Theme: The Cross
Tune: original music (

Christ crucified — dying for us,
Reconciles the far away.
We were lost, alone and helpless,
Turned from God and gone astray.
As he cries aloud “forsaken”
And his arms are opened wide,
We are brought into God’s presence,
Welcomed home as Jesus died.

Christ crucified — offered for us,
Facing judgement in my place.
Takes my blame and condemnation,
In this sacrifice of grace.
As he sinks down into darkness,
He bears God’s wrath on the cross,
I’m declared by God as righteous,
Seen in Christ — loved in this cost.

Christ crucified — given for us,
As a ransom for our sin.
Setting loose from our prison,
Liberation to begin.
Piercing nails - Christ’s life a payment,
Love and justice satisfied,
Rescue to us helpless captives,
Freedom as he’s crucified.

Christ crucified — lifted for us,
As he reigns upon the cross.
For death’s chains cannot hold him,
And Hell’s power has been lost.
Christ the Lord says “It is finished”
Victory by thorny crown,
Love’s eternal plan accomplished,
In his triumph I am found.


Lent 1
Theme: Christ v. Satan
Tune: Leoni (
Source: Mark 1.9-15

Christ strode in Spirit’s pow’r,
Into the wilderness,
To overthrow all evil’s might,
And fight for us!
Authority and strength,
Of God Almighty’s Son,
To crush the serpent’s biting head:
Our Champion!

Christ does what we can’t do,
On our behalf he stands,
Withstanding evil by his love,
In desert sands.
He’s tempted in all ways,
But does not enter sin,
His righteous life to give in grace:
Our Champion!

Upon the blood stained cross,
There darkness does its worst,
And with every heaving cry,
He fights for us!
There victory he has claimed,
And evil’s reign is done,
Satan shattered by our Christ:
Our Champion!

Made one with Christ in faith,
Our cause is joined above,
He represents us in the fight,
With fierce love.
We roar adoring praise,
And share his triumph won,
Our God who comes to fight for us,
Our Champion!

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