By Mark Zimmermann
Every January 1, we ring in the new year with hopes of renewal, refreshment and a better outlook on life. The year 2023 provides us with an excellent opportunity to do just that in our churches and in our personal faith journeys.
The year 2023 marks the 250th anniversary of the beloved hymn “Amazing Grace,” first sung in a church on January 1, 1773. One of the most well-known spiritual songs in history, “Amazing Grace” has the ability to capture the heart, soul and mind of every believer in Christ seeking a fresh start.
In addition, the story of how “Amazing Grace” came to be is a fascinating and surprising account to share. The writer, John Newton, was an Anglican clergyman from Onley, England, who penned the lyrics from personal experience. An unbeliever as a young adult, Newton served as a sea captain in the Atlantic slave trade. In 1748, a violent storm off the coast of Ireland struck Newton’s ship so severely that he called out to God for mercy.
This event marked Newton’s turn toward God, which he called “the hour I first believed.” Eventually leaving sailing behind, Newton then began studying Christian theology and was ordained in the Church of England in 1764.
He was a minister in Olney, England, when he penned “Amazing Grace” in 1773. The song poetically tells what it feels like to be a person far from faith who is brought near to God.
Since all can resonate in some way with once being spiritually lost but now found, being religiously blind, but now seeing, “Amazing Grace” is a perfect song to celebrate in 2023. Here are some ways churches can do this:
Make It a Theme Year
Include the hymn in your regular worship throughout the year. Pick a Sunday of the month, maybe the first Sunday, to give back to the Lord and your community through acts of grace and service. Discuss ways of extending and receiving grace in your small groups. Host a movie night showing a historical drama of John Newton.
Have a Bible Study
Use the verses of the song as the basis for a Bible study on grace, God’s divine favor, freely given. The text for the hymn is drawn from 1 Chronicles 17:16-17, in which King David responds to the prophet Nathan’s words that God intends to continue David’s royal line for eternity. Hold the study at church on Sundays or a weekday or at home in a small group. Encourage participants to share their personal stories related to “Amazing Grace.”
Host a Retreat
Host a weekend or mid-week summer retreat on “Amazing Grace.” Invite participants to gather for an all-day or multi-day event at a retreat center, convention hall or church camp for relaxation and refreshment in God’s amazing grace. Include other community-building activities (hikes, swimming, canoeing, sing-alongs, campfires, cookouts, ice breakers, board games, etc.) to connect and reconnect church members.
Fun Facts About “Amazing Grace”
- “Amazing Grace” is one of the most recorded hymns of all time. The Library of Congress has more than 3,000 recordings.
- “Amazing Grace” is performed about 10 million times annually.
- “Amazing Grace” has been translated into more than 50 languages.
- Newton would become one of the most outspoken abolitionists in British history.
Mark Zimmermann serves as the senior product developer at Creative Communications for the Parish, www.creativecommunications.com, where he has worked since 1994. In this role, he acquires authors for worship and devotional materials, procures permissions from other publishers, and molds and shapes submissions to meet the changing needs of today’s pastors and parishes.