250 Years of Amazing Grace

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Grace is God’s everlasting love of us. John Newton captures this understanding of grace with the message that forgiveness and redemption are possible regardless of sins committed and that the soul can be delivered from despair through the mercy of God.

Over the past 250 years, Amazing Grace has become an international anthem, inspiring countless stars from Elvis Presley to Aretha Franklin and Andrea Bocelli. The US Library of Congress holds more than 3,000 published recorded performances by different individual musicians or musical ensembles - but the famous tune came later.

The hymn was written in the town by curate - and former slave ship captain - the Reverend John Newton, for his sermon at St Peter and St Paul Church on 1 January 1773 in Olney, England. At Concord-St. Andrews we will celebrate its 250th anniversary this Sunday with the singing of it.

The words reflect his journey back to his Christian faith. Former slave ship captain, John Newton, was ordained in 1764 and appointed a curate in Olney. Newton (1725-1807) ended up in Buckinghamshire after a life at sea travelling between Liverpool, Africa, and the West Indies as part of the transatlantic slave trade. In March 1748, he was captain of a ship that was caught in a severe storm near the Brazilian coast, which he later credited with the start of his return to Christianity.

Tim German, a volunteer at the Cowper and Newton Museum in the town, said while Newton said he rediscovered his childhood faith during the storm, the words of Amazing Grace were not an apology for his role in the slave trade but "about his redemptive journey back" to Christianity. "The ship nearly fell apart and some people died, but he was rescued and had a transformation religiously... his Christian faith started to come back," he said. "His journey to saying, 'my role in slavery was totally wrong and I regret it,’ came later."

Professor Emeritus in history at the University of York, said the hymn "has an unusually profound significance, both devout and secular. It provides solace in times of stress, hope for the downcast and the prospects of salvation for the needy. Few other hymns can claim such importance," he said.

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