A hymn and a reflection on collaborative hymn-writing
by Sarah Brush and Michael Brierley.
Tend us, Lord, as Kingdom People
planted in the world, your field:
love, compassion, justice, freedom
are the crop we long to yield.
At our root, in depth and richness,
love divine provides the ground,
that our lives, secure and nourished,
may in love for all abound.
Forth from love there stems compassion:
we will weep with those who mourn,
staying with the lost and lonely
through the darkness to the dawn.
From compassion, justice blossoms
for the weak, outcast, oppressed,
casting down the rich and mighty
so that meek and poor are blest.
Freedom is the fruit of justice –
not the choice of our own way,
but the God-giv’n grace to follow
Christ in every step each day.
Love, compassion, justice, freedom –
grant, creator God, our call
by your Spirit so to grow
’til Christ our Lord fills all in all.
Sarah Brush (1974) Michael Brierley (1973)
Tune: Servant Song
Below is a collaborative reflection about a piece of creative collaboration in the writing of the hymn above. The words of the Revd Canon Dr Michael Brierley, Precentor of Worcester Cathedral and Cuddesdon alumnus are in black and the words of the Revd Dr Sarah Brush, Tutor in Pastoral Theology at Cuddesdon are in green.
The Diocese of Worcester has an initiative ‘Kingdom People’, which seeks to enable Christian communities more fully to embody four ‘kingdom values’ – love, compassion, justice and freedom.
I’d always thought those four words had such a good rhythm to them and, as I was preparing to leave a diocese I’d worked in for nearly ten years, I tried to put them to music. At an earlier diocesan event we had used the hymn Brother Sister Let Me Serve You for which I’d written a couple of extra verses reflecting the particular prayer activities at the event. I thought using that tune would be a suitable echo for people to half hear in their minds as they sang the new words; linking life as Kingdom People with the Servant Song.
I worked on several versions of the words but couldn’t get them quite right. Thinking it would be good to have someone else reflect on it, I sent it to our cathedral Precentor, Michael Brierley who had incorporated other modern hymn compositions by young clergy, like Ally Barrett, in various services for the diocese.
Sarah Brush, then a curate in the diocese, sent some hymn words on this theme for possible inclusion at the diocesan services which I help to arrange at the cathedral. I was both excited by their freshness, their structure (a verse on each value, introduced and concluded) and their topicality, and also found myself wondering whether one or two corners could be further polished.
I’d never worked on a hymn before, and found that a couple of train journeys to London on the sluggish line through the Cotswolds were the ideal setting for the polishing. I ended up re-writing more than I expected. The metre (and tune) was 8787, and the difficulty of filling the unemphasised, last syllable on the first and third lines spilt over into altering other lines.
It wasn’t always an easy process; sometimes we would critique phrases the other had painstakingly constructed or pitch for a change of one particular word. Often, changes meant more changes were needed and sacrifices of other words were necessary. Yet most of the time, perhaps begrudgingly on my part at times, Michael’s suggestions improved what I’d written and even expressed something I’d been trying to say but hadn’t quite achieved.
There was also the issue of focusing on a single metaphor – that of a plant – to run through all the verses.
This was one particular development which was a truly collaborative creation: the hymn transformed from reflecting the Kingdom People values with only a passing allusion to the vine logo which accompanied them to one which was woven throughout with an extended metaphor of a growing plant. This development gave us lots of new challenges but resulted in something so much better than my original version.
Several email exchanges later, the result was premiered at the chrism eucharist in Worcester Cathedral in Holy Week 2018. All the better for being a genuinely collaborative exercise, it was a harder task than I imagined: but having done one, a next one – given a train journey or two through the Cotswolds – might turn out to be easier …