By Ben Kupiszewski
Grace is no stranger among the pews of our churches. A perennial concept, it is explicitly preached, if not consistently alluded to, most Sundays across denominations. Perhaps more than anything else, the idea of God’s lavish favor poured out to redeem us undeserving sinners is the distinguishing feature of Christianity in contrast to other religions—a point C.S. Lewis emphasized. It is a baffling, absurd but wondrous notion, to be sure, the animating reason why we as Christians attend worship services in the first place, prompting us to sing, repent and pray with one another.
So, if grace is no stranger among the pews of our churches, then why not double-down on it as a central motif in your church’s liturgies and ministries? In addition to its timelessness, grace in fact makes an especially timely theme in 2023: It’s the 250th anniversary of the beloved hymn “Amazing Grace.”
Written in 1773 as a reflection upon his own life, John Newton, as a former slave trader turned Anglican preacher and prominent abolitionist against the inhumane institution, provided the world maybe no better theme song to testify to God’s power to save and change a “wretch” of a person. While unsparing in his assessment of himself, Newton’s lyrics praise God for protecting and caring for him despite when he was far from being a devout Christian. And if someone as spiritually “lost” and “blind” as Newton could be one day be “found” and “see,” then anyone can be rescued by God’s staggering, soul-altering grace. That’s a truly inspiring and captivating message!
The numbers bear this out, confirming the extent of the hymn’s cultural impact among both the faithful and secular:
- The United States Library of Congress boasts more than 3,000 recordings of the song.
- Newton biographer Jonathan Aitken estimates that “Amazing Grace” is performed about 10 million times annually.
- The hymn has been translated into more than 50 languages.
With Newton’s grace-attesting words, an affecting melody and its already profound popularity, “Amazing Grace” makes an ideal device to preach to Christians and non-believers alike.
Pastors and church leaders can get creative in how they incorporate and celebrate the anniversary of the hymn. Here are some ideas to make the most of the opportunity:
Think of the Children
If your church is affiliated with a school, try weaving “Amazing Grace” into religious studies curricula or regularly scheduled events.
Put It on the Silver Screen
The dramatic narratives of Newton’s life and the political push to abolish the British slave trade lend themselves to Hollywood adaptation. So, on a Friday evening, invite the congregation over and put on a movie night presenting “Amazing Grace” or “Newton’s Grace,” two films that positively depict Christianity as a force for good in the world and tell the stories of Newton and his allies battling in and out of Parliament to prohibit slavery throughout the British empire. Church small groups perhaps could use these movies as supplements to their reading and discussion of “Amazing Grace”-themed devotions.
How Sweet the Sound
Coordinate with your church’s musical director to perform a special rendition of “Amazing Grace” as a reoccurring element in worship services. If your church has a choir that’s big enough and feeling ambitious, ask them to put on a concert featuring “Amazing Grace” and other hymns and music that speak to the greatness of God’s grace for all!
Whatever you decide to do, the 250th anniversary of “Amazing Grace” offers the perfect opportunity to encourage reflection, prayer and outreach. Don’t ever let grace become a stranger among your pews.
Let’s embrace it!
Ben Kupiszewski is a writer/editor living in St. Louis, Missouri. With a background in journalism, he has worked in and around print and digital news media since 2008, particularly the Columbia Missourian, Vox magazine, and Missouri Lawyers Media. His writings have been featured in the aforementioned Missourian, Vox, as well as the Cass-County Democrat-Missourian, ManCity.com (the official website of the English Premier League soccer team), and the devotional Living the Gospel Life. Currently, he works at Creative Communications for the Parish editing seasonal devotionals, www.creativecommunications.com.