The show follows the life — or lives — of the hymn’s composer, John Newton. As a finale, the cast and audience join in a sweet, stirring rendition of the title song. And for a few moments the theater becomes a church and the patrons a congregation.
It was the kind of spiritual blending that “Amazing Grace” has been fostering since Newton, a former slave trader, penned it to celebrate his spiritual rescue.
And as we all sang as one, I’m sure I wasn’t the only one wondering if “Amazing Grace” would be included in the new hymnbook being compiled by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
For decades now, the hymn has hovered just outside of Mormon air space. The Mormon Tabernacle Choir titled a CD “Amazing Grace.” And I suspect a good many members can sing the first verse by heart.
But the song has never quite broken through.
I’m guessing it has to do with the hymn being so entwined with notions of "saved by grace alone” rather than the twin paths of “grace and works” that Mormons follow.
What's more, the word “grace” itself only recently became fairly common in the church. And the line “saved a wretch like me” was always a tad harsh for LDS sensibilities. (Some Protestant congregations today sing “saved a soul like me.”)
On the other hand, there’s much to support adding the hymn to the LDS collection. Newton already has one hymn in our book. “Glorious Things of Thee Are Spoken” (No. 46) may be the finest unsung song in the hymnal.
But the biggest selling point, I think, is LDS members appear ready and willing to embrace it.
“Amazing Grace” has slowly found a home inside Mormon ward boundaries.
Many years ago, Bill Moyers did a television special about “Amazing Grace.” I was so touched by the program that I wrote Moyers a note. I told him the tune reminded me of a bugle call because of its simplicity and power.
He sent back a long, handwritten letter. He reminisced about his own youthful days of bungling bugle calls. He thought bagpipes, not the bugle, may be why the tune had a military tang to it. He went on and on.
The letter was so warm and intimate, I felt “Amazing Grace” had made us friends for life.15 comments on this story
And that was also the feeling that surfaced in Logan when the cast and audience began singing from the same page.
True religion, I feel, will always seek for ways to embrace and include. So, to my mind, “Amazing Grace” must be a slice of true religion. Christian congregations take it to heart and sing it from the soul.
I vote to include it in the new hymnbook.
After all, there are worse songs out there.
I once heard Buck Owens sing a rowdy, irreverent ditty called “Ain’t It Amazing, Gracie!”
It took me weeks to forget it.