This was the what-to-do-with-the-money conversation; how to spend a windfall of more than $80,000, courtesy of untold numbers of generous Anglicans who achieved the impossible.
It is, after all, impossible for a project not even designed as a fundraiser to raise that much money, a toonie at a time. Just ask any professional fundraiser.
It is impossible for something as whimsical and spontaneous as the Amazing Grace Project to get actual responses from almost half—half!—of all parishes and congregations in the country. Just ask any professional pollster.
And it is impossible for Anglicans to come together like this—in these kinds of numbers and with this kind of creativity—in a spirit of unity and fun and generosity. Just ask… well, just ask any Anglican.
The bishops gathered in Edmonton took this task very seriously. From the outset, in a discussion that lasted the better part of two days, there was agreement that the money had to be spent rather than hoarded.
The proceeds of Amazing Grace, as Bishop David Ashdown, chair of the Council of the North, said, were proof of the commitment of Canadian Anglicans to ministry in the North. But the money was also a gift that had to be reciprocated. It had to be given back to the church in a form of ministry that would reflect the Anglican love of the North and the concerns for the church in the North that inspired the donations in the first place.
And so what you have done with this project—a toonie at a time—is given the Council of the North seed money to start putting together a program that will assist people in the North—especially front-line clergy—to deal with the harsh realities of violence and the high rate of suicide, especially among younger people.
It is a thoughtful and difficult project that involves working with a consultant and the production of resources. It is also a long-term project and while there is no certainty that the Amazing Grace Project will fund the initiative beyond its first year, it is the start of something that could have a profound impact in how the church deals with a pervasive and heartbreaking issue.
All because one day, you got together with some friends and sang a hymn.
Why did the Amazing Grace Project work so well?
We know some things that did not help make it a success. The project did not arise from a plethora of studies by working groups and task forces on how to bring Anglicans together or how to raise a bundle of cash in a novel way. The idea, in fact, was a spur-of-the-moment thing that grew wings. The toonies were an afterthought. It did not succeed because of a big budget for development and promotion—in fact it had no budget. And it did not succeed because it required hard work and a long-term commitment. The day came, you sang, and that was that.
I think that it is entirely possible that all those things that should have made the project fizzle are, in fact, what made it work.
The stark simplicity of it. The fun of producing a homegrown video of you and your friends singing a song. The heartstrings plucked by the hymn itself. A deep hunger for togetherness regardless of politics, regardless of theology, regardless of how much you might have been whining about the direction the church is taking last Sunday.
And there was, of course, the hymn itself. In a reflection on “Amazing Grace,” David J. Schlafer, an Episcopal priest, described it as “the comfort food of Christian hymnody…widely tolerated, even appreciated by many who don’t believe a word of it.”
The image of comfort food is worth pondering.
The hymn, undeniably, resonates with many people both in what the words say and through the story of the slave trader turned Christian turned hymnist. The theology of redemption—lost…found, blind…see—has universal meaning in an imperfect world, as it does in an imperfect church. Singing the hymn on a given day with thousands of other people in hundreds of places may have been a fun thing to do, but no doubt many people are also stirred by the words every time they hear them. It’s a hymn people love to sing and that is abundantly reflected in the compilation video Amazing Together.
The Amazing Grace Project has left a lingering question: What next? Should there even be a next?
Inevitably, when I have heard the project discussed, conversation has turned to the possibility of a sequel next year. Hot on the heels of that comes the question of what hymn could be used next time. There are plenty of suggestions too.
In wide and disparate feedback that I have heard about the Amazing Grace Project, the thought that has floated to the surface time and again is that the project never would have worked this way with any other hymn. The Ven. Paul Feheley, principal secretary to the Primate and a student of music, has said that the only possible exception might be “How Great Thou Art.”
The thing is, though, that while the hymn this time was a lovely, inspired choice, it was only a hymn. It wasn’t “Amazing Grace” by itself that brought you together like this and that raised $81,000. It was something else, something a lot harder to get at.
Perhaps this thirst to do something together. Perhaps an opportunity to be together, to be church in a light-hearted and fun way. Or something else.
I think there is a sequel to the Amazing Grace Project out there.
But I have no idea what it is.
If so, email me.
Vianney (Sam) Carriere is the director of communications and information resources for the Anglican Church of Canada.
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