Sue McCoan and Matthew Prevett met while both training to be ministers in the United Reformed Church (URC). Matthew had taken a music degree at Durham University; Sue had done a little writing but not much more, she says, than comic rhymes.
We are delighted to be publishing three of Sue and Matthew’s hymns here on Singing the Faith Plus:
“I had written a parody of ‘Albert and the Lion’ [one of the monologues made famous by Stanley Holloway in the 1930s] for an end-of-term review at college” says Sue. “As a result I was asked to try and produce a hymn for a valedictory service” – an end of academic year service for those graduating and beginning their ministry. Matthew was asked to write the music. Together, they came up with You call us, as you called the Twelve – a hymn since revised to draw out its relevance for all people engaged in Christian discipleship.
Sue is not a prolific writer, responding usually to a request or to a particular occasion – or, in the case of two of the hymns published here on Singing the Faith Plus, to a tune offered to her by Matthew. She “likes words, the use of words”, and believes that a hymn, like any poetry, needs time to work on. She looks to hymn writer Alan Gaunt, also a URC minister, for a model. “His words are profound and eloquent but seem to fit comfortably, never straining for a rhyme or a rhythm.”
For his part, Matthew loves combining his skills with Sue’s: “It is immensely inspiring to work with Sue – she has a very perceptive way of bringing out ideas and themes. I’m not particularly eloquent myself; it’s really good to be inspired by the way she sees the world.”
Part of Sue’s vision is a strong awareness that people of faith come with flaws and questions and fears. Not everything is great, not everything is wonderful, she says. Like Jesus’ own disciples, she suggests in Set loose the tongues, we may often be hesitant about our faith – and it’s this awareness, combined with compassion, that runs through her hymns.
Matthew admits that hymn singing itself is something of a dying art. He recalls a worship leader from the Christian organisation Soul Survivor suggesting that people are only comfortable singing when a praise band is pulling them along. They don’t have a sense of singing with (or listening to) those around them – they are not relating to each other (the ‘worshipping community’); only to the music coming from the band.
Nevertheless, Matthew and Sue write in hope. They believe that hymns can still be a valuable way for people of faith to share their experience and be involved, together, in worship. “Let loose the tongues, those tongues today that long to sing your joys”, they say:
Untangle thoughts, give shape to dreams,
let courage find a voice.
Come, Spirit, come to old and young,
poured out in wind and flame,
till through all ages, space and time
the gospel is proclaimed.