History of Hymns: "For the Healing of the Nations"
"For the Healing of the Nations"
The United Methodist Hymnal, No. 428
For the healing of the nations,
Lord, we pray with one accord;
For a just and equal sharing of the things
for the things that earth affords;
to a life of love in action
help us rise and pledge our word,
help us rise and pledge our word.*
During the 1960s and 1970s, four English-language hymn writers emerged on the other side of the Atlantic Ocean who were the leaders of the “hymnic explosion.” Fred Pratt Green (1903-2000), Timothy Dudley-Smith (b. 1926) and Brian Wren (b. 1936) all were born in Great Britain.
Unlike the other three, Fred Kaan (b. 1929), though ordained in the United Reformed Church and serving in England, is a native of Haarlem, The Netherlands.
These writers, along with their counterparts from the United States, Canada, New Zealand and Australia, brought the language and theological vision of hymnody out of the earlier Victorian era into the late 20th century. In many cases, their work continues to enrich 21st-century congregational song.
After serving congregations in England, Dr. Kaan established his ecumenical credentials, serving from 1968-1978 as minister-secretary of the International Congregational Council in Geneva, Switzerland and the executive secretary of the World Alliance of Reformed Churches.
He returned to England in 1978 as a moderator of the Western Midlands Conference of the United Reformed Church. From 1986-1989 he returned to parish ministry in the United Reformed Church.
Carlton R. Young, editor of The UM Hymnal, says of Dr. Kaan, “His linguistic ability, ecumenical service and fervent concern for the powerless are apparent in his hymns, numbering more than 200.”
Collections of his hymns appear in this country as The Hymn Texts of Fred Kaan (1985), Planting Trees and Sowing Seeds (1989) and The Only Earth We Know (1999). He was elected Fellow of the Hymn Society in the United States and Canada in 2001. His hymns have been translated into more than 15 languages.
In 1985, Dr. Kaan reflected on “For the healing of the nations,” saying, “Of all the hymns I have written, this is the text that has been more widely reprinted and incorporated in major hymnbooks than any other. It was first used in 1965 in a worship service at the Pilgrim Church, Plymouth [where I was then serving as pastor], to mark Human Rights Day [Dec. 10]. Subsequently, it has been used on many official occasions, such as the 25th anniversary of the United Nations organization.”
Turning to the hymn text itself, the first stanza is a prayer for all nations and a pledge to a “just and equal sharing of the things that earth affords.” The second stanza continues to pray that we will be led “forward into freedom”—freedom from “despair . . . war and hatred.”
Stanza three petitions that, “All that kills abundant living . . . from the earth be banned.” The writer continues to provide examples of practices that stifle “abundant living,” including “pride of status, race, or schooling” and “dogmas that obscure your plan.” He concludes the stanza by saying, in essence, that life is too short not to seek justice as “our common quest.”
The final stanza addresses God directly and reminds us that humankind is “growing in [God’s] likeness [as we] bring the life of Christ to mind”—a current expression of the Imago Dei—humanity created in the image of God. The hymn concludes with the affirmation that “through our response and service earth its destiny may find.”
Dr. Kaan is a prophetic poet. As we approach the celebration of Independence Day in the United States, perhaps his hymn expresses patriotism in Christian terms—to care for a world where we are inter-dependant and to use our political will, global influence and natural resources for the good of all humanity in seeking justice and “abundant living” for all.