Amazing Persistence, Liberating Grace

Watching the William Wilberforce/John Newton film Amazing Grace at a home group around the day the church remembers William Wilberforce (30 July) encouraged New Zealand vicar Michael Berry to use some of the themes in the Sunday sermon at church at St Heliers, Auckland, on Sunday 2 August 2009.

Hearing him prompted me to look back at some ‘John Newton’ photos I took a while back.

Robin Meredith Jones, actor & friend, has for many years been doing a show base on John Newton, also (inevitably) called ‘Amazing Grace’. On the 200 anniversary of John Newton’s ‘promotion to glory’ on 21 December 1807, Robin and his wife Christine Way did a version of the show in the London City church of St Mary’s Woolnoth, where John Newton was vicar for 28 years.

Robin Meredith Jones as John Newton, in his original pulpit
Robin Meredith Jones as John Newton, in his original pulpit

Most people know that Newton was involved in the slave trade – though not all are aware that Newton was himself a white slave briefly early on, after an altercation with a the captain of a slave ship he was crewing on.

What is well documented is John Newton’s conversion to the Christian faith, and his penning of the famous hymn ‘Amazing Grace’.

His ‘seeing the light’ could not have been more graphically portrayed on the bicentenary of his death. There are some high circular windows in St Mary’s. The low winter sun pushed it’s way through the clouds, occasionally making a spot-light on the wall, as Robin re-told the story in the Newton’s original words. Just as we got to the part of the story of his conversion, the light from the sun hit Newton’s pulpit, making the story glow in a way more powerful than could have been pre-planned. It was truly Amazing.

Robin is preparing to take Amazing Grace on tour in Bermuda in October 2009, after doing a warm up in Copthorne on 20 September; but is always keen for other opportunities to perform it. He can be contacted on email.

Newtons Memorial in St Marys Woolnoth
Newton’s Memorial in St Mary’s Woolnoth