JOHN BELL was born in, resides in, and belongs to Scotland. Largely through interest expressed by GIA, his work and availability has become a North American reality.
He is a liturgical composer who writes co-operatively with colleagues in Glasgow; he has a deep interest in music from non-European cultures and a passion for the song of the assembly.
Though his primary vocation is as a preacher and teacher, he spends over half his time working in the areas of music and liturgy, both at conferences and in small parishes. His work takes him frequently into Eastern Europe, Asia, Africa, and Australia.
With his colleagues, he has produced over 15 collections of songs and octavos, and a wide range of liturgical materials, particularly for use by laypeople, and he oversaw the production of a substantial hymnal for the Church of Scotland which, in North America, goes by the title Hymns of Glory, Songs of Praise. (Canterbury Press).
He has also authored a number of collections of sermons and meditations, is an occasional broadcaster on radio and television, and manages to survive without the benefit of a wife, car, cell phone, camera, or iPod.
One function of the Church's song has been to raise to God the plight of people adversly affected by illness, bereavement, disaster, or some manifestation of social injustice. The psalms are replete with such material. But the seductions of feel-good religion has diminished the appetite for reflecting reality when it hurts. This workshop acts as a corrective and explores the hidden benefits of expressing pain as well as pleasure in song and liturgy.
There are many songs about the birth of Jesus (most of which have little reference to the Gospel story) and many about the death. But what about the life between, which we are expected to celebrate on Sundays in Ordinary Time?
Here we explore material which specifically deals with the public ministry of Jesus, his passions and surprise, and the relevance of the psalms in this pursuit.
A demonstration workshop of music produced by the Iona Community, which is regarded in Britain as one of the most innovative and authentic sources of new congregational music. There is no uniformity of style, but rather a selection of Psalm settings (metrical, chant and antiphonal), hymns and songs (set to traditional, folk and recently composed tunes), and chants and choruses for use in developing imaginative liturgy.
Twentieth-century Christians, if they are truly contemporary, should have within their worship some indication that they belong to an international community. If we sing only songs from our own land, we end up in danger of worshipping a national idol rather than the universal God. Through stories, prayers, and much part singing, John shows how music of the world churches is accessible to congregations in the 'developed' nations and can enrich their experience of worship.
One regrettable distinctiveness of North Atlantic churches is that their congregations tend not to sing. The voice of the people has often taken second place to the sound of the organ, the music group, the choir or praise band. Much of John's work is in convincing people that they can sing, irrespective of their ability to read music, and in this workshop he offers insights into how all God's people can sing a new song.