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UK News

Hymns we sing today are ‘primary school level’, says Rowan Williams

by Heather Preston

The former Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams has said the most popular hymns chosen for weddings and funerals are like “baby food” in terms of their lyrical content.

Speaking in The Times, Lord Williams of Oystermouth lamented at the “bland” song choices used to mark special occasions, saying they are picked because they are what “people remember from primary school”.

The former archbishop remarked that more theologically rich songs seem to have “fallen out of common memory” as hymns have become less prominent in schools and society.

His comments come in response to a letter to The Times from Lord Lisvane, chairperson of the Royal College of Organists, in which he referred to the well-known hymn All Things Bright and Beautiful as “saccharine doggerel” and “deeply depressing.”

Written in 1848, All Things Bright and Beautiful is the first song listed on the Church of England’s recommendations for wedding ceremony hymns and features high on many popular hymn lists for special occasions.

Lord Williams, who has described the song as “very bland, and, at worst in its full version, rather aggressive,” explains that many people in today’s secular society lack a knowledge of hymns and as a result tend to draw upon those which they sang as children.

“The unfortunate effect of that is you have hymns that work at a primary school level,” he said.

A good hymn “nourishes the spirit” through storytelling, metaphors and pictures, Lord Williams said, citing Love Divine, All Loves Excelling and Come, O Thou Traveller Unknown, both by Charles Wesley, as good examples. 

Lord Williams has urged schools to include more hymn-singing and encouraged religious education teachers to explore more singing and chanting.


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