Amazing Grace

The Twenty-third Sunday after Pentecost
October 28, 2018

Amazing grace! how sweet the sound,
that saved a wretch like me!
I once was lost, but now am found,
was blind, but now I see.

On the Biography website, author David Sheward writes:

"Amazing Grace is probably the most beloved hymn of the last two centuries. The soaring spiritual describing profound religious elation is estimated to be performed 10 million times annually and has appeared on over 11,000 albums. It was referenced in Harriet Beecher Stowe's anti-slavery novel Uncle Tom’s Cabin and had a surge of popularity during two of nation’s greatest crises: the Civil War and the Vietnam War. Between 1970 and 1972, Judy Collin's recording spent 67 weeks on the chart and peaked at number 5. Aretha Franklin, Ray Charles, Johnny Cash, Willie Nelson, and Elvis are among the many artists to record the song." 

John Newton, a priest and poet in the Church of England, wrote this hymn in Olney, a small village where he served as curate. Along with William Cowper, he established a weekly prayer service, and the two men wrote a new hymn to introduce each week. "Amazing grace" was written sometime during the 1770s and was published in Olney Hymns in 1779.

After spiritual conversion and a health crisis, Newton had left his old life as a captain on slave-trading ships and pursued a life of ministry. He was self-educated, and his preaching drew largely from personal experience. His simple, direct approach endeared him to the common people and is evident in the first-person language of the hymn. In later years, Newton became an ardent abolitionist and worked with William Wilberforce and others to abolish the slave trade in the British Empire.

The hymn, although British in origin, gained its popularity in the United States during the "Second Great Awakening," an evangelical revival movement in the early 19th century. The tune, New Britain, was a combination of two earlier tunes. The first publication pairing Newton's words with the New Britain tune occurred in an 1847 edition of Southern Harmony, a shape-note hymnal associated with the revival movement.

"Amazing grace" was a "new" hymn to Episcopalians in The Hymnal 1982. It was first introduced in an Episcopal hymnal supplement, Lift Every Voice and Sing, in 1981.

In The Hymnal 1982 Companion, it is noted that most hymnal editors have retained Newton's original words - "that saved a wretch like me" - even though they present difficulties for modern singers. The language is easier to understand when considering the context of Newton's past experiences in the slave trade. He used the word in at least ten other hymns "to describe the human condition before the operation of the grace of God in Christ."

The arrangement our choir will sing today was composed by Richard Proulx (1937-2010) for a cappella choir and flute. The use of "blue notes" in the flute part adds a hint of jazz flavor, another quintessentially American art form.

Listen to a recording (click on the "preview" link): Amazing grace. As you listen, reflect on today's gospel lesson and the ways that God delivers us from "blindness" in our lives.

The Twenty-third Sunday after Pentecost
October 28, 2018


690      Guide me, O thou great Jehovah                    Cwm Rhondda
632      O Christ, the Word Incarnate                          Munich
            For the life that you have given                      Pleading Savior
411      O bless the Lord, my soul!                              St. Thomas (Williams)
437      Tell out, my soul, the greatness of the Lord   Birmingham

Service Music:
Psalm 34:1-8, St. Martin's Psalter, Thomas Pavlechko
New Plainsong, David Hurd

Amazing Grace  -New Britain, arr. Richard Proulx

Handbell Music:
The Gift of Love                                               arr. Patricia Sanders Cota
For the Beauty of the Earth   

Organ Music:
A Communion Prelude  -Charles Callahan
Alyssa Griggs, flute

Toccata in D Minor  -Johann Sebastian Bach

Glover, Raymond F., ed. The Hymnal 1982 Companion, The Church Pension Fund, 1994. pp. 1236-1237.
Sheward, David. The Real Story Behind "Amazing Grace." August 11, 2015.


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