WALNUT CREEK, CA (July 2, 2015) — Anyone who has sung from a Covenant Hymnal in the last 40 years quite likely sang songs written by Covenant minister Bryan Jeffery Leech, who died Tuesday at the age of 84.
Leech wrote hymns that included “Come, Share the Lord,” “Let Your Heart Be Broken,” “Kind and Merciful God,” “Your Cause Be Mine,” “We Are God’s People,” and “Lord, When We Praise You with Glorious Music.” As a member of the Covenant’s 1973 Hymnal Commission, he also helped oversee the publication of the red hymnal.
Leech was born on May 14, 1931, in Middlesex, England. He spent more than half his life in the United States. After a stint in the Royal Navy, he enrolled in London Bible College. He came to the United States in 1955 and studied at Barrington College and later at North Park Seminary. He was ordained in 1961.
He ministered at Covenant congregations in Boston, Massachusetts; Montclair, New Jersey; as well as in San Francisco, Santa Barbara, and Oakland, California. He was named pastor emeritus at First Covenant Church in Oakland.
“He was a great gift to the Covenant,” said Paul Wilson, Pacific Southwest Conference superintendent and former senior pastor of First Covenant in Oakland. “He was a great preacher and then of course there was his hymn writing.”
He did not recognize his talent for writing hymns until his mid-thirties. He went on to compose more than 500 songs, hymns, anthems, and cantatas.
Leech’s love of the church was reflected in his music. He once wrote that “We Are God’s People,” which was set to Johannes Brahms’s tune “Symphony” forty years ago this week, was the favorite of all the texts he had penned:
“We had at that time very few popular hymns relating to the church. So on a gray, smoggy morning at a friend’s office in Southern California, I decided to work toward remedying this lack by writing one of my own. The day was the 4th of July, 1975. I sat at a typewriter in his office and I did not get up until I had written all 4 verses. The result was ‘We Are God’s People.’ It turned out to be the favorite of all my hymn texts. I love singing it and I like especially the mixture of the metaphors in it, some biblical and some my own, which illustrate the true nature of the church. ‘We are a temple, the Spirit’s dwelling place, formed in great weakness, a cup to hold God’s grace; we die alone, for on its own each ember loses fire: yet joined in one the flame burns on to give warmth and light, and to inspire.’”
Leech said “Come, Share the Lord” had become his most popular hymn. He recalled for a United Methodist website that, “In the autumn of 1982, I made an inner resolve to write a communion anthem and promptly forgot about it. During Christmas with my family in England, I invented a melody at the piano, but my mind was barren of any lyric ideas. One hot summer day, while visiting a musician friend in Simi Valley, California, I played the setting and asked him to react to it. After repeating it, he thought a moment and then said, ‘It’s obvious: Holy Communion.’ I went home and within an hour the words were complete.”
Services are pending.