John L. Bell

For the philosopher, see John Lane Bell.
Rev. John Bell, 2009

John Lamberton Bell (born 1949, Kilmarnock, Ayrshire) is a hymn-writer. A Church of Scotland minister, he is a member of the Iona Community, a broadcaster, and former student activist. He works throughout the world, lecturing in theological colleges in the UK, Canada and the United States, but is primarily concerned with the renewal of congregational worship at the grass roots level.

Student activism

Bell studied at the University of Glasgow where in 1974 he was elected President of the Students' Representative Council. His election represented a significant development as it was the start of a few years' control by the left wing of the SRC. Bell was quite open about his Christian religious beliefs, wearing a wooden cross-shaped pendant.

In 1977 he was elected Rector of the University,[1] while he was still a student. This was part of a trend for student rectors in Scotland at that time (which included Gordon Brown at the University of Edinburgh) but the rules were later changed to prevent students from standing for this post.

Music career

After a period in the Netherlands and two posts in church youth work, he became employed full-time in the areas of music and worship with the Wild Goose Resource Group. He is a past convener of the Church of Scotland's Panel on Worship and also convened the Committee to revise the Church Hymnary. In 1987 he wrote The Summons.

In 1999 he was honoured by the Presbyterian Church in Canada and the Royal School of Church Music which bestowed a Fellowship on him, and in 2002 he was awarded an honorary doctorate by the University of Glasgow.

Bell has produced (sometimes in collaboration with Graham Maule) many collections of original hymns and songs and two collections of songs of the World Church. These are published by the Iona Community in Scotland and by G.I.A. Publications (Chicago) in North America. Several collections of his work have been published in translation in Swedish, Norwegian, Finnish, Danish, Dutch, Frisian, Japanese and German.


He is a frequent broadcaster, and often presents programmes on the BBC, majoring on contemporary religious songs from various parts of the world. He is quite a regular contributor to "Thought for the Day", part of Radio 4's Today programme.

In 2005, the BBC apologised for a broadcast by Bell in which he suggested that a Muslim corporal conscripted into the Israeli army had been jailed for refusing to shoot Palestinian children. The broadcast itself was a fairly innocuous plea for understanding between the two sides with conflicting claims in the Middle East, yet was interpreted by those of one allegiance as an attack. Neither the BBC nor the Israeli military were able to find any evidence supporting the story or the existence of a soldier fitting the description. It was further pointed out that Israeli Arabs are not subject to conscription. Bell acknowledged that parts of his story were incorrect and that the broadcast could have been interpreted by some parties as "furtive racism", though he countered that "such a conjecture would be completely untrue".[2] It was also reported that a spokesman at the Israeli embassy said, "We appreciate that the BBC has apologised; however, it is a pity as the damage is irreparable.[...]"

Church Hymnary (Fourth Edition)

John Bell was the Convener (and music editor) of the committee which drafted the Church of Scotland's Church Hymnary (Fourth Edition). The committee first met in 1994; the Fourth Edition was finally published in 2005. Music edition: ISBN 1-85311-613-0

Partial bibliography


External links

Academic offices
Preceded by
Arthur Montford
Rector of the University of Glasgow
Succeeded by
Reginald Bosanquet
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