Obituary: Bryan Jeffery Leech

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 Bryan leechRoyal 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.

 

 

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20 Comments

  1. A musical genius has passed. Paul Sandberg, who has also passed away, first introduced me to Bryan’s music with his album “Lately Have You Seen the Sun”. I believe few writers in the past millennia had the gifts of Bryan with both words and music. Absolutely incredible! Blessings to the family and grace be yours in your loss. I would love to see an entire album created in memory of his works. I would love to learn who handles copyright permissions for this works. The Lord bless you and keep you, dear family.

  2. We feel very humbled and privileged to have such a wonderful Uncle who was so good at listening to anything and everything on our minds.
    Bryan was so down to earth with amazing openers, trust and understanding in guiding us along the only path to true happiness. Always showing genuine interest and being very kind, sensitive, loving and caring, there’s so much to remember!

    How we treasure every moment, trying to recall
    Everything you taught us, you just knew it all
    Nothing to fear and if so a song
    With just the right words to help us along

    Your faith a beacon, so bright and clear
    It was always so strong, we knew where to steer
    Our father in heaven please teach us anew
    What Bryan would say, to lead us to you

    Giving all the credit to your Master and King
    Whose presence you are now rejoicing in
    Father thank you for Bryan and all that he meant
    We wish we’d had more time to have spent

  3. As my father’s 100th birthday was I approaching, I called Rev. Leech regarding his suggestion for an appropriate choral piece to be sung at an event honoring my father. He suggested an anthem he had written. A choir composed of 45 extended family members joined together to sing that beautiful selection with piano and flute accompaniment. The composition could not have been any more perfectly written to express my joy-filled memories of my father’s heart and life! I had the blessing of being able to share that with Rev. Leech, and and I still reflect on how meaningful that experience was for our family to share together! The composition was “I Thank the Lord for Every Single Memory of You”.

  4. While I did not know Bryan well, those few times we did work together were very special. He had an “old world” quality about him that I really loved. I wish I had found more time to be around him.

    We collaborated on one work entitled “Pursuit of Excellence,” which was premiered at the CBA Convention during the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics. Our performance featured Joyce Landorf and a host of interpretive dancers. It was a special time.

    I will certainly miss his gift–poetry that was astounding. Increasingly more and more of us are dying off…only what’s done for Christ will last.
    Kurt

  5. Bryan was one of my dearest friends over these past 40-plus years. We were in a small group for men for 15 years; served together on his Morning Song Radio Ministry board; He was Uncle Bryan to our two boys and the namesake for one of our grandsons. And, he taught me so much about life, worship, faithfulness, prayer, creativity, integrity, kindness and pain. Yes, he was stubborn, but it also served him and us well when it came to balancing truth with grace. After getting out of the hospital with pneumonia three weeks ago, we had made plans to get together and catch up on life. We’re going to have to put those plans on hold for now…but it won’t be long. You’re free at last, Bryan…free at last. John

  6. In San Francisco, I sang in First Covenant Church’s production of “Resurrection” many years ago, probably in the 1980s under the direction of Howard Redman. He allowed two lady tenors to sing and be part of the disciples and what an experience. All of Bryan Leech’s music was beautiful and God honoring. He will be missed but not forgotten. Oh, I was one of the tenors!

  7. I met Bryan Jeffery Leech when I was working at Westmont College before attending seminary. He wrote a song for my wedding, “While They Are Kneeling”, and we had his song, “Love is Commitment” also sung at our wedding, thirty-four years ago at the Montecito Covenant Church with Rev. Curtis Peterson as our best ban. Shirley and I were very blessed by Bryan’s kindness, thoughtfulness, and generosity. He had a way of listening and then praying that lovingly articulated what was on one’s heart – Bryan was a wise counselor and a dear friend. I remember he took us to the recording of “Ebenezer,” and we went out to dinner with Fred Bock. He would play compositions he was working on. One of them was “The Hiding Place” that Paul Sandberg eventually recorded. As a pastor, I have had congregations sing “We Are God’s People” during special milestones. Our life has been enriched and the church has been strengthened through the ministry of Bryan Jeffery Leech. He has left us a rich and worshipful legacy.

  8. When Bryan pastored the Montclair, New Jersey, Covenant Church he became an “adopted” member of our family. Much to our delight he shared most Sunday dinners and holidays with us. His sermons and creative writing were a blessing to hear and read. His “This Christmas” hymn (1988) was dedicated to our family. My father accompanied Bryan on his move west.

  9. I had the pleasure of arranging several of his anthems, and even now I am putting the final touches on his new musical based on “Pride and Prejudice.” He had so hoped he would be able to be there for the grand opening of this major work. But he is now in glory, and living out the hope of eternal life, which was one of his most beloved themes. Anthems and songs which point to eternity include “Glimpses of Glory,” “We Shall Stand in His Presence,” “We Shall Be Changed,” “Can’t You See the Dawning,” “The Best is Yet to Come,” and others. In fact, many songs and hymns have ending verses pointing to eternity. I am rejoicing for him now, though I will miss him and arranging for him here.

  10. I am very sad to hear of Bryan’s passing. My dad, Paul Fryhling, was a Covenant pastor in Providence, Rhode Island, when Bryan came to the U.S. to study at Barrington College. He began worshipping at our church in Providence and became very close friends with my parents. I know that my dad was a mentor for him as he continued his journey into ministry.

    I just talked to Bryan about 3 weeks ago. He talked about looking for someone to help him stage a new musical. I’m very saddened to hear that he’s gone. Wonderful person, talented musician, and example of doing God’s work in the world.

  11. Dotty and I have lost a long-time friend, and our hearts are heavy with the loss. I first met Bryan back in the late fifties at North Park and we have maintained our friendship over these many years. We have shared holidays with Bryan, vacationed at his home when he lived in Santa Barbara, and more importantly worshiped and prayed with him.. His love of music, his charming wit, his creative genius, and his warm and earnest faith in Christ endeared him to all of us. For us, no hymn of his better captures who he was and what he was about in his life than “Lord, When We Praise You.”
    Lord when we praise you with glorious music;
    Lord, when our hearts mean the things that we say;
    Lord, when we love you with all of our being;
    Lord, when in faith we believingly pray;
    Then we are seeing, then we are sensing,
    All that our destiny calls us to be.
    And in our hearts we’re expecting the moment
    When in your presence your glory we’ll see.
    He lived those words and now has fully realized them. Peace to the memory of this great soul.

  12. I will always remember meeting him and thanking him for the great hymns he wrote. This is a sad loss for the Evangelical Covenant Church and the Christian church at large. He was a great man of faith and leaves a legacy of great hymn writing.

  13. Bryan was one of God’s dearest gifts to the Covenant. His Gentle spirit, his pastoral heart, his poetic and musical genius enriched all who came into his sphere. I always felt blessed whenever our paths crossed and we were able to spend some time in conversation and remembering. The gifts of song he has left his church will endure and continue to enrich our worship and, indeed, our souls. Peace to his memory.

  14. Bryan Jeffery Leach wrote the outstanding musical Cantata “Resurrection” many years ago, and I have been so fortunate to have been a member of the cast for the past twelve years. Our cast had a wonderful opportunity to perform the cantata for him in Walnut Creek, California, in 2007, a memory none of us will ever forget. He was honored that we were there to perform it for him, but we were more honored to perform it for this incredible man. He was a man of enormous vision and talent and was so willing to share those gifts with the world. His reward in heaven is so great because his was a life so well lived!

  15. “always loving Him, always serving Him, always praising Him, this is our life” ~BJL
    On Behalf of The St Patrick’s Family Players, we thank God for gift of Bryan’s faith and willingness to share through “lending” us his treasured musical cantata “Resurrection.” As we enter our twentieth year of sharing this eloquently scripted story of Christ’s unconditional love and forgiveness, we acknowledge the foundation of faith that Bryan has afforded us with this tool!
    Personally, I have lost a dear friend who would take time to delight me in whimsical and faith-filled phone conversations, but would always end with the most inspirational and insightful shared prayer! I am sad for us in this moment of knowing how missed he will be but am rejoicing in his teachings and know he is truly Resurrected within Christ’s ominous presence!

  16. Dear pastor and friend, with deepest gratitude in our hearts, we will continue to sing your hymns to the glory of God and for the edification of Christ’s body, the church that he richly blessed through you and your ministry. We thank God for the gift that he made you and loaned us for too short a time and for each carefully chosen word or beautifully crafted phrase born in your heart and lived out in and through your life! Our Lord used you in a profound way in our lives and ministries! Soli Deo gloria!

  17. I am saddened to learn of Bryan’s passing. We shared a friendship of over fifty years and enjoyed working together on hymnal related projects, collaborating on the hymn, “Your Cause Be Mine.”
    What amazing gifts Bryan possessed! And what versatility, writing not only hymns, but cantatas, musicals and anthems. Particularly memorable was his version of Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol,” which contained the line, “Ebenezer, What a geezer!” Bryan had a delightful sense of humor that enriched conversations and his creative writings. His many hymns live on in a number of hymnals, continuing to bless the larger church. He will be greatly missed.

  18. Bryan wrote:

    “Sometimes it seems we’re standing on tiptoe
    Sometimes it seems the future is now
    Sometimes the holy hush of God’s presence
    comes and then leaves us wondering how
    Sometimes it seems we’re caught up to heaven
    Or is it heaven that comes to us here?
    Sometimes it seems that just for a moment
    things that are hidden are suddenly clear
    Glimpses of glory . . .”

    Thank you Father for Bryan, who walked with you, and gave us words
    and images that liberated our imaginations in the direction of Your inexpressible beauty.

    Paul Wilson
    superintendent, PSWC

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