Celebrating Fred Kaan

The life and music ministry of Fred Kaan were recalled and celebrated at events throughout late November.  Fred began writing hymns in English (although his mother tongue was Dutch) in the mid-sixties for his congregation in Plymouth, England,  and over the next four decades, published at least five collections of hymns, and edited a number of others. He has been widely recognized as the key figure in the remarkable renewal of hymnody of the second half of the 20th century. Tributes to his leadership poured in at the time of his death on October 4th, 2009.

Sunday Nov. 22nd, at VST’s Chapel of the Epiphany, in Vancouver, some forty folk gathered at 7:30 pm to sing a cycle of Fred’s hymns.  Rev. Drs. Lynne McNaughton and Gerald Hobbs led the evening, introducing fifteen hymns written over the forty years of Fred Kaan’s career.  Ron Klusmeier of Parksville, BC, who has composed more than 100 melodies for Fred’s texts, was at the piano, accompanied by other musicians and singers. The evening concluded with Fred’s Evening Hymn, set to a haunting Klusmeier melody.  Through a recording made a few years ago, the group heard Fred reading the second and third verses.  Special guest of the evening was Anthea Kaan, who gave a moving tribute to her late husband.

A similar event occurred five days later, Friday, Nov. 27th, at Westworth United Church, in Winnipeg, Manitoba.  A surprisingly large crowd of over sixty sang the hymns, as Gerald Hobbs  presented them. The music ministry team of Westworth Church, with Dorcas Windsor at the keyboard, gave strong support, and the lovely sanctuary was filled with song.  Anthea Kaan was again present, and spoke as in Vancouver.

Monday, Nov. 23rd, a brief ceremony was held on the front lawn of Vancouver School of Theology. After reading a portion of Psalm 92 and offering prayer, the group sang two verses from Fred’s hymn, “On not giving up”:

Were the world to end tomorrow, would we plant a tree today?
Would we till the soil of loving, kneel to work and rise to pray?
Pray that at the end of living, of philosophies and creeds,
God will find the people busy planting trees and sowing seeds.”

Anthea Kaan then scattered a container of Fred’s ashes around the base of the oak tree, which Fred intially planted in March 2004, at the time of his Kaye Lectures at VST,  The Only Earth We Know.  A permanent plaque was affixed, honoring the 2004 occasion.

Anthea Kaan returned home to the English Lake District Sunday, Nov. 29th.

The United Reformed Church of Great Britain held a large celebration in Cheltenham in south-west England on April 10th, 2010.