Home History of Hymns: "Help Us Accept Each Other"

History of Hymns: "Help Us Accept Each Other"

"Help Us Accept Each Other"
Fred Kaan
The United Methodist Hymnal, No. 560

Fred Kaan

Help us accept each other
as Christ accepted us;
teach us as sister, brother,
each person to embrace.
Be present, Lord, among us,
and bring us to believe
we are ourselves accepted
and meant to love and live.*

During the 1960s and 1970s, four English-language hymn writers emerged on the other side of the Atlantic Ocean and became 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.

Fred Kaan (1929-2009), though ordained in the United Reformed Church and serving in England, was a native of Haarlem, The Netherlands. Together the four account for many of the hymns written since 1965 that appear in The United Methodist Hymnal and many other denominational hymnals.

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. Carlton R. Young, editor of The UM Hymnal, says of 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 that 15 languages.

Kaan explains the origins of the hymn, “Help us accept each other”: “This text was set in motion upon reading a Bible study article Mrs. Jackie Mattonen had written for the Cumberland Presbyterian Church in the USA. . . . It was almost accidentally and at the last moment included in the fourth edition of Cantate Domino [an ecumenical and cross-cultural hymnal published by the World Council of Churches in 1974], … and it so happened that my “Hymn of acceptance” was just the right length to fill the two blank pages that needed filling.”

The text appeared in Kaan’s collection Break Not the Circle (1975) for the first time in the U.S. The words became more widely sung when they were set to music by American composer John Ness Beck (1930-1987) as an anthem. Beck’s anthem setting was then adapted as a hymn tune ACCEPTANCE.

This is one of the most powerful hymns on reconciliation and forgiveness composed in the last half of the 20th century. Romans 15:7 provides a scriptural basis for stanza 1: “Receive one another, then, just as Christ also received you, to God’s glory.” The hymn also reflects Ephesians 4:15: “But practicing the truth in love, we will in all things grow up into Christ, who is the head.”

Stanza two asks for grace to accept all people unconditionally:

Teach us to care for people,
for all, not just for some,
to love them as we find them,
or as they may become.

In stanza three we find that accepting others changes us. One of my favorite lines in this hymn is a Eucharistic reference to forgiveness followed by the healing power of laughter:

. . . until we know by heart
the table of forgiveness
and laughter’s healing art.

We find in stanza four that forgiveness and acceptance “free[s] us, make[s] us one!”

Kaan died Oct. 4 at the age of 80 after a long struggle with cancer and Alzheimer’s disease. Though one of the most prophetic and vigorous voices in 20th-century hymnody has been silenced, we shall continue to sing his hymns. Requiescat in pace.

*© 1975 Hope Publishing Co., Carol Stream, IL 60188. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Dr. Hawn is professor of sacred music at Perkins School of Theology.