Tony Cummings quizzed Cambridge-based worship leader SARAH CLAY about her powerful ministry.
One of the problems with the existing worship song status quo, with the dominance of a few publishing arms of multi-nationals sufficiently wealthy and well connected to turn the occasional worship song into a huge CCLI hit, is that there is little or no room for the grassroots worship composer to break into the elite. However excellent the impartial observer may judge the latest batch of worship hits emanating from Eastbourne, Nashville or Sydney one cannot shake off the suspicion that there are a hundred other songs of equal excellence and with the same potential to engage the spirits of the worldwide worship Church which simply get ignored by the big worship companies. So it's always encouraging to trace a worship song written and originally recorded in obscurity steadily get used by more and more fellowships as they stumble across it. This is exactly what is now happening to the song "You Are Beautiful" by Cambridge-based Sarah Clay. For, in the words of Cross Rhythms broadcaster/journalist Mike Rimmer, "You Are Beautiful" is "one of the best worship songs written in the last few years."
Cross Rhythms tracked down Sarah, who is the worship leader at Cambridge's Faith Life Church. We asked her how "You Are Beautiful" came into existence. She replied, "Different songs mean different things to me. Some of them are very personal. 'You Are Beautiful' was kind of amazing. I wrote that after a period of being very ill. I'd had six or seven months of just being very sick in hospital; being tube-fed, losing a lot of weight, being on IV fluids. I'd been in hospital for six weeks solid and wanted to go to a Bible Week. I went and was prayed for, and was so much better. I wrote the song then; it was basically my testimony to God of what he'd been to me during that time. The bridge goes: 'You are my hope in despair/You're my beauty for ashes/My dancing in the morning/You are my light in the darkness/Strength in the weakness/Peace in confusion/My anchor through the storm/My victory cry in the battle/Jesus.' That song's so amazing to me. When it's been sung, I know of people have been healed listening to it. It's been used in our church and I've had people come up to me and say, 'Sarah, I cried all the way through that song!' God's really moved a lot through it, but more than that it's really precious to me because after I'd written it I became ill again, and it was like something I'd been given by God to stand with. It was a testimony and it became God's heart and his word for me to stand on; something I could believe and trust in. So it became a personal song to me; in fact, in our church, it's often called 'Sarah's Song'!"
Mike Rimmer heard the song when Sarah sang it at a Lifelink Bible Week. He suggested to Sarah that she approach dB Studios, whose pioneering 'Re-leased' series of albums gave relatively unknown worship songwriters the opportunity to record a song in a professional studio with professional musicians. Sarah's rendition of "You Are Beautiful", originally titled "So In Love With You Jesus", duly appeared on 'Re-leased 4'. Remembered Sarah, "The session went well, though I'd just come down with a chest infection and was also quite nervous at singing for the first time in a studio! It was a good experience, the staff at dB Studios were great and very professional, but I definitely find it easier and less nerve-racking recording in a live setting!"
And that was just what Sarah subsequently did. Taking a batch of songs she'd written over a few years she brought in experienced record producer Paul Burton and in the first weekend of March 2007 began work on what was to become the outstanding independent album 'Enthroned'. Explained Sarah, "I had four days of rehearsals prior to the weekend with Faith Life Church worship team and the extra musicians/singers. The rehearsals went really well, there was a lot of room for creativity, arranging, prayer and worship, whilst trying to maintain flexibility whilst recording so we could catch a 'flow' of worship. The weekend of recording was amazing! On the Friday night and Saturday we recorded the songs without a congregation to have as a back up in case we didn't get time for them all live, or messed an intro up, etc! As it happened, everything went very smoothly on the Sunday - we had a morning and evening meeting with a very enthusiastic congregation, and there was a real sense of worshipping in the presence of God rather than merely recording songs. The CD is a cut version of nearly six hours of awesome worship! The really exciting thing was that people were healed, saved and delivered throughout the sessions!
"After the live recordings, we then added in extra studio work - vocals, extra backing instruments, etc. Then it was a question of lots of emails flying backwards and forwards to mix and master the songs. Paul Burton and co were incredible and knew exactly what to do - a great help when you don't have a clue! Altogether, I couldn't have asked for a better experience in recording a debut album."
The fifth of seven siblings, Sarah was born and raised in Macclesfield, Cheshire. Her parents have been pastors/missionaries for the majority of their lives. Said Sarah, "I remember making a commitment to God when I was five years old, but the biggest impact on my Christian life has been my family. I am so thankful to God for them. Ever since I was little, I loved to sing and make music. One of my family's earliest memories is of them taking recorders away from me because I blew them all the time! I've always had music in my heart. At the age of nine, I started to get involved in the worship at the Good News Church in Macclesfield, which my parents pastored. I joined the worship team and played recorder! They were and still are a very gracious worship team and church!"
Sarah had some important mentors in her early teens, in particular, a lady called Janet Broadhurst. Commented Sarah, "I remember spending a lot of time with her worshipping together, listening to new songs, going to worship conferences and concerts and leading with her on Sunday mornings; she, along with others at that time, really raised and released an incredible heart for worship within me. In 1997 I left Macclesfield to go to University in Cambridge where I did a BA in Music & Education, majoring in the flute. Whilst at University, I worked for a local church with the main worship team and started up several children's worship bands. It was during my time there that I really started leading worship on a regular basis. Since then, I haven't stopped! I love worship and dwelling in God's awesome presence. My favourite music memories are of late nights worshipping at the piano writing songs from my heart."
Sarah is today very busy with Faith Life Church, heading up their worship team and teaching singing at a school and running a gospel choir. She continues to write songs and lead worship at different conferences in the UK and overseas. The most important thing for Sarah however is to help usher in a Holy Spirit revival. She said, "[I believe we are going to] see a revival - a mighty move of God in Cambridge, England and the nations! In fact, that really is the desire of my heart, to know God more and more, and to be used by him to bring glory to Jesus seeing our nation reached for Christ. Worship is such a key to seeing the floodgates of Heaven open up in revival and through the songs God has placed in my heart, I want to be used to help open up those floodgates and usher in the worship from around heaven's throne room."The opinions expressed in this article are not necessarily those held by Cross Rhythms. Any expressed views were accurate at the time of publishing but may or may not reflect the views of the individuals concerned at a later date.