Thursday, 10 September 2015

Amazing Grace

We've spent part of the summer this year in The United States.  Firstly in Princeton - a small New Jersey township dominated by its prestigious Ivy League university.  There are lots of Presbyterians in Princeton!  In fact we were amazed at how full the Presbyterian church was on the Sunday we worshipped with this friendly and vibrant congregation on Nassau Street.

The last five days of the holiday saw us move up to New York and it's difficult to imagine a greater contrast with sleepy Princeton.  If Mum and Dad rather preferred the township our two sons reveled in the city!

On our last evening our youngest son treated us to a surprise - planned and paid for by him. We had no idea what was in store for us as we left our hotel off Broadway and walked up to Times Square.  Eventually we arrived outside the Nederlander Theatre - he had tickets for us to see a new show called 'Amazing Grace' - a musical about the life of the hymn writer John Newton!

Ever since I learnt about this Buckinghamshire cleric, Newton, in Sunday School as I was growing up he's been a hero of mine.  I love his story of being press ganged into the navy, living for a time as a slave himself before actually becoming a slave ship captain, of his 'encounter' with God in a fierce ocean storm, his time as tide-surveyor in Liverpool and then his two parishes as an Anglican priest, firstly in Olney alongside the English hymnwriter William Cowper and then opposite the Bank of England at St Mary's Woolnorth where he befriended the abolitionist Wilberforce.  Newton's was such a dramatic life and we are all the richer for having his hymns - such as Glorious things, and How sweet the name of Jesus sounds as well as Amazing Grace, in our books today.

The Nederlander Theatre on Broadway has a reputation for taking historical figures and working them into a musical.  The Wall Street Journal gave the thumbs up to this production saying it was 'One of the best looking musicals to reach New York in recent seasons'!

I loved it too - although I do recognise there was a certain amount of dramatic license with the plot!!

I loved the fact that in the middle of this most cosmopolitan of cities we were listening to songs and dialogue charting the life of a man who experienced the touch of God in his life so much that he turned full circle from slave ship captain to abolitionist.

There were some great songs in the show we saw but if the standing ovation at the end was anything to go by it was the last number that did it for most of us.  It started quietly with a lone African girl singing the first verse of Amazing Grace and one by one members of the cast joined her on stage until, by the time of the last verse, everyone was present singing the old sea captain's song about the love and grace of God that blesses and dignifies every human life on the planet.

It was a great message - with not a dry eye in the house!

best wishes,

Ian



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