Prisoners will sing "Amazing Grace" with gusto

When the Rev. Lon Towstego heard about the Amazing Grace Project, he knew it would be an easy sell at the Nanaimo Correctional Centre. The Rev. Towstego, a former motorcycle mechanic, is chaplain at the medium security prison, where he counsels, teaches, and leads services for the 240 residents.

“‘Amazing Grace’ is just one of those pieces that seems to comes up often and that the residents sing with gusto,” said the Rev. Towstego. “I think there’s real meaning in the words of the hymn for them. It gives them hope and inspiration.”

The residents are now planning to share their “gusto” version through the Amazing Grace Project, which encourages all Canadian Anglicans to sing “Amazing Grace” on Nov. 23, film their rendition, and send it to the General Synod offices, where it will be included in an online compilation video (up by Christmas). Singers are also encouraged to donate a toonie to the Council of the North.

One feature of the Nanaimo performance will be the Lakeside Disciples, a 10-person gospel guitar group comprised of residents. Centre staff and local church volunteers will also add their voices.

The Rev. Towstego said that at first he was daunted by the technology of filming, and the challenge of protecting prisoners’ privacy. However, after viewing the videos already on the Amazing Grace website (now up to 24!), he realized there were many simple, creative ways of recording the song.

Now, he said, residents are looking forward to their performance, which they plan to do early, on Nov. 16.

“The significance [of this project] for me is the joy and the seriousness of the worship that takes place with these men,” said the Rev. Towstego. “I’m excited to share this with the larger church, because even though it’s a correctional centre, to share worship with these men is amazing in itself. It’s seeing grace in action.”

Is your group hatching a unique “Amazing Grace” plan? Share your story, or get more ideas from the Amazing Grace Project website.

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