Green, Fred Pratt


b Roby nr Liverpool 1903, d Norwich, Norfolk 2000. Huyton High Sch, Wallasey Grammar Sch, and Rydal Sch, Colwyn Bay. Attending Childwall Parish Ch (his mother’s church) as a child he became aware of Hymns A&M. The family moved to Wallasey where they joined the Wesleyans (his father’s first spiritual home) and Fred remembered singing lots of hymns, many of them long. A friendship with his fellow-pupil Eric Thomas, a future Anglican vicar, began with a satchel fight but blossomed as they attended each other’s churches on alternate Sunday evenings. The nonconformists’ open invitation to Communion strengthened Fred’s Methodist convictions, while the English master A G Watt sparked Fred’s lifelong love of poetry. Attracted once to an architect’s career, he was deeply moved by an address at Wallasey on John Masefield’s The Everlasting Mercy; he offered for the Methodist ministry, seeing his first work in print (a play) while in training at Didsbury Theological Coll, Manchester (1925–28). He was ordained in 1928. Dissuaded by the Principal from his desire to work in Africa, he was urged instead to become chaplain at the new Methodist girls’ boarding sch at Hunmanby, Yorks. While there he married Marjorie Dowsett who taught French, and served in the Filey Methodist circuit. He then moved to Girlington nr Bradford, followed in 1939 by Gants Hill nr Ilford, Essex. Then at Finsbury Park (1944–47) he met Fallon Webb— agnostic, invalid, and poet; for 20 years they continued to meet to share and gently criticise each other’s work. His next posting was to the Dome Mission at Brighton, where Fred preached to 2000 or more on Sunday evenings; then in 1952 to Shirley nr Croydon, and in 1957 to York. His final pastorate (1964) was one of his happiest, at Sutton Trinity not far from Shirley. He had by now published several poems, and became more widely known by his 1963 collection The Skating Parson, and a single poem The Old Couple in the BBC weekly The Listener a year later.

But a more significant step was his appointment in 1967 to a group preparing a supplement to the Methodist Hymn Book, eventually emerging as Hymns and Songs (1969). It was John Wilson, formerly of Charterhouse Sch, then at RCM, who encouraged Fred not just to assess other verse but to contribute his own. So began, in his mid-60s, virtually a new career which led to his being acclaimed as the finest Methodist hymn-writer since the Wesleys—who of course were Anglicans! 27 of the 177 texts in Partners in Praise (1979) were FPG’s; and when the Methodists revised their main book as Hymns and Psalms (1983) 27 of his texts were again included. The American The United Methodist Hymnal (1989) had 18, more than any other living writer. Hundreds of hymnals worldwide (especially in the UK and USA) now feature his work, which has been sung at several national events in Britain. His own main collections are The Hymns and Ballads of Fred Pratt Green (1982); Later Hymns and Ballads and Fifty Poems (1989); and the posthumous Serving God and God’s creatures (a memorial volume, 2001) and Partners in Creation (2003). He wrote some 300 hymns, including one officially chosen for the Queen’s Silver Jubilee in 1977, It is God who holds the nations. Among others most widely acclaimed are In praise of God meet duty and delight and To mock your reign, O dearest Lord. The notes in all these volumes also make FPG the most fully-annotated of 20th-c hymn-writers, thanks largely to his friend and editor Bernard Braley whose own Hymnwriters 3 (1991) contains further biography. Fred retired to a Methodist Home in Norwich in 1990, and in 1991 published his final book of verse, The Last Lap, still marked by faith, skill and gentle humour; Marjorie Green died in 1993. Throughout his life he struggled with the changing face of theology, with both intellectual problems and social needs, preaching and writing, as he put it, ‘in an age of change and doubt’. He interacted with writers, musicians and church leaders on both sides of the Atlantic, and his writing royalties over many years were channelled into a Trust which still contributes to many hymn-related causes and helped to establish the Pratt Green Library housed in the Univ of Durham. Erik Routley wrote of FPG in 1979 that ‘no hymnal that ignores him can claim to be fully literate’. Carlton Young speaks of his ‘unique and immense contribution to the writing of hymns and the editing and compilation of hymnals’. Nos.236*, 288, 431, 696, 899, 906, 916, 930.