John L. Bell

John Lamberton Bell (born 1949) is a Scottish hymn-writer and 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.

John L. Bell
John L Bell 20091018 (cropped).JPG
Bell speaking in 2009
Born (1949-11-20) November 20, 1949 (age 72)
Kilmarnock, Ayrshire, Scotland
CitizenshipUnited Kingdom
Alma materUniversity of Glasgow
Notable workChurch Hymnary (Fourth Edition)
Rector of the University of Glasgow
In office
Preceded byArthur Montford
Succeeded byReginald Bosanquet

Student activismEdit

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 of Glasgow,[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 careerEdit

After a period in the Netherlands and two posts in church youth work, Bell 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 hymn "The Summons".

In 1999, Bell was honoured by the Presbyterian Church in Canada and the Royal School of Church Music which bestowed a Fellowship on him. 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 said that a Muslim corporal he had met who had been conscripted into the Israeli army had been jailed for refusing to shoot Palestinian children. 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 two parts of his story were incorrect: the part about conscription had been an assumption on his part and he had misstated the person's age. He said: "I perfectly understand that at a time when Jewish sensitivity in Britain is running high because of anti-Semitism that part of my remarks might have been interpreted as furtive racism. However, such a conjecture would be completely untrue."[2]

Public speakingEdit

Bell speaks to audiences across the world. In the UK, he has been associated with the Christian Arts Festival Greenbelt for many years.[3]

Personal lifeEdit

In 2017, responding to the story of Lizzie Lowe[4] who took her own life because she was afraid to tell her parents about her sexuality, he publicly came out as gay. He had remained single because he believed that this enabled him to work without hindrance or compromise as a public Christian and fulfil his commitments in the area of worship in the Church of Scotland.[5]

Since 2021, Bell is a patron of the Open Table Network, an ecumenical Christian community for LGBT people and their allies.[6]

Selected worksEdit

Church Hymnary (Fourth Edition)Edit

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

Other worksEdit


  1. ^ University of Glasgow Story-John Bell
  2. ^ "BBC apologies for Thought for the Day's soldier story", Daily Telegraph, 18 February 2005
  3. ^ Meyrick, Sarah (2 November 2006). "John Bell, Iona Community member, speaker at Greenbelt". Church Times. Retrieved 26 May 2020.
  4. ^ Abbit, Beth (23 September 2018). "Lizzie Lowe killed herself thinking the church wouldn't accept she was gay". Manchester Evening News. Retrieved 2 January 2021.
  5. ^ Handley, Paul (26 August 2017). "John Bell: 'Why I came out'". Church Times. Retrieved 30 August 2017.
  6. ^ "Meet our Patrons - John Bell in conversation with Alex Clare-Young inc BSL interpretation". Open Table Network. 15 April 2021. Retrieved 18 April 2021.

External linksEdit

Academic offices
Preceded by Rector of the University of Glasgow
Succeeded by