Afeature film will be screened at a cinema near you next month, which like Passion of the Christ, The Nativity Story, and The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe before it – offer the local church a great platform to interact with their local community. Amazing Grace – a major new film about William Wilberforce will be screened at a cinema near you next month. ??Coming from the studios of Walden Films - the makers of The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe – it will feed into the 200th celebration of the decision by the UK parliament to make the slave trade illegal. The film stars Ionan Gruffudd as William Wilberforce and Youssou N’Dour as Oladah Equiano. As well as encouraging your church to watch the film, this article identifies ways your church can use Amazing Grace to trigger debate, prayer, campaigning and community involvement in this vital issue. Slavery may have been abolished 200 years ago – but today right now many millions of men and women, boys and girls are enslaved. ??The conclusion of our six-part series on ‘slavery then and now’ contains…

  • Nine ways to use the film in your local community
  • A ready-to-use all age service outline
  • Amazing Grace film review
  • Useful websites
  • A ‘ready to adapt’ sermon

Amazing Grace: 9 Ideas

John Allan highlights nine creative ways to use the film in evangelistic or community contexts.

  1. Educate your church?. Set aside one day when you all agree to do some deliberate learning about the issues (this idea is modelled on the ‘Micah Day’ idea from Micah Challenge; read about it at Two of the many sources of good information and resources are: Set All Free and Free The Slaves. Perhaps as an outcome of the day you could all agree to send an e-mail to the Prime Minister or your local MP, or both (details on the Anti-slavery website described below).
  2. Get involved?. Campaigning organisations such as Stop the Traffik and Anti-Slavery offer a host of practical ideas for ways in which churches, individuals or youth groups can help to further the struggle against slavery and similar abuses today. Anti-slavery also offers a very useful month-by-month 2007 guide to events all over the country, which you can support or help with, and a large list of organisations and websites that will bring you up to speed very quickly indeed.
  3. Outside in. ?If you have people who are fairly musical and enjoy dressing up, have an open air meeting with a difference! Dress in early nineteenth century clothes (not too difficult to copy) and take to the High Street to sing some of the famous Newton and Cowper hymns that energized the Christian reformers of this period. When a crowd gathers, explain that you’re not there to sell anything or even to preach, but to honour the centenary of an incredible moment in British history, and a truly amazing man. Print and give away a little four-page account of Wilberforce’s story – which is summarised very neatly and amusingly at the Tear Fund’s website - with details of local film showings and perhaps an invitation to something else you’re organising (see further ideas below!). ??4. Party on?Host a dinner party at the end of March to celebrate the 200th anniversary of the abolition of the slave trade. Ensure that everything you serve has been fairly traded! Use the meal as an opportunity to remind people of the famous words of Martin Luther King: “Before you finish eating breakfast in the morning, you’ve depended on more than half the world.” During the evening, show a brief movie from one of the organisations listed above, highlighting the worldwide problem, and make available literature on Freedom Day 2007. An occasion like this is an unthreatening way of getting and non-Christian friends to the same occasion, and can spark some really interesting discussions – from which both sides will learn a great deal!
  4. Screening. You can’t show the Amazing Grace film at church yet (although you can take people to see it and you could even block book tickets – contact your cinema for details). But how about following up on interest generated by screening Amistad - Steven Spielberg’s film about the courage of American Christians, inspired by Wilberforce’s work, just a few years later. (You can read the background facts which aren’t highlighted in the movie here,  or here.) It’s a great film, and a moving introduction to the way in which the Gospel sets people free, then makes them agents of liberation for others too.
  5. Link up. ?As a change from AIDS`ribbons and the like, wear a couple of small links of chain on your lapel to commemorate the bicentenary. You can easily buy a short length of chrome chain designed to secure plugs to sinks, and with pliers turn it into scores of attractive little badges. Use it as a conversation starter to explain what Wilberforce, Newton, Equiano and others did, and why.
  6. This is your life?. Put together a ‘This Is Your Life’ presentation for William Wilberforce, and present it in your church. Tell his story through the eyes of his many friends, the famous dying letter from John Wesley, and some of his own words. There are many helpful biographies on the Web, such, that will help you put something together quickly and easily. There are also several new biographies being published about Wilberforce – such as Stephen Tomkins’ book published by Lion Hudson. If you come up with a really good presentation, why not run it once or twice for local schools?
  7. Assembly?. If that’s too ambitious, why not offer your local schools an assembly in March on William Wilberforce? You’ll be able to use pictures from the Web, stills from Amazing Grace, and lots of dramatic illustrations of slavery and people trafficking both now and then (visit the movie website). You could also use songs and readings from the ‘Dignity’ anti-slavery CD (see Set All Free’s website for details).
  8. The Good Book?. Tear Fund and others are putting together Bible studies for churches to use at around the time of Freedom Day. Use them in house groups as a way of focusing your church’s attention on the question: what are we doing to further Wilberforce’s vision today?

Amazing Grace: all-age service outline

John Allan provides a ready-to-use all-age church service outline you can adapt for your own church.

The order in which you include these elements will depend on your usual practice – feel free to vary it all to suit! Also: for this reason I’ve suggested no music… although ‘Amazing Grace’ might seem a natural choice, and possibly ‘And Can It Be’ (very popular in Wilberforce’s youth!)

Scripture readings: 1 Corinthians 1:26-31; Romans 7:15-8:2??Activity: Bring four children to the front and have them play a competitive game (e.g. a quiz, paper/rock/scissors – whatever you like). Explain that you promise to give the two winners a bar of chocolate, but if they lose, you will owe them nothing. Stress this! At the end, give the winners their promised prize, and let them sit down to applause. Then produce two more chocolate bars. Ask the losers: do I owe you this? Have you any claim on this? Should I be giving you this? Then give it to them anyway.??Say: the winning pair had every right to their chocolate – I’d promised! The others had no right at all. It was just a free gift with no strings attached. And that’s what the Bible means by ‘grace’. Paul reminded the Corinthians in our first reading that they were a pretty unimpressive lot; why should God have done anything for them?

But grace means loving and caring for those whom you don’t really need to. Today we’re looking at the story of a man who came to believe that God loved him unconditionally – and because of that, started to love other people unconditionally too, even when others told him not to get involved...(You might wish to go on from here to introduce the story of Wilberforce and the film Amazing Grace – or leave it for later within the sermon.??Prayers: Get everyone to stand up. Ask them to sit down if they have money in their pocket, which is theirs to spend… If they will choose for themselves where they will go on holiday next year... If they are wearing something which they chose for themselves... And finally, if they have done something already today which they chose to do without anybody else telling them they had to… Everyone should be seated by now! Say: throughout the world there are millions of people who would still be standing up. They aren’t free. Their lives are controlled by others and they have nothing they can call their own.

We’re going to pray for them now. Spend some time praying for those who experience very little grace from other human beings – those who are forced, by threats or economic pressure, to leave their countries and homes to work hard just to make others rich. Be sensitive in talking about (e.g.) child slavery and prostitution – this is a family service! For facts, numbers, and stories, see the websites cited in this article.??Sermon: See the free complete sermon, written by John Allan, at the end of this article.??Other visuals and audio resources you could use:There are many pictures and statistics available on the sites mentioned elsewhere in this article. Stop the Traffik has extremely brief, hard-hitting video clips which could be shown on a digital projector at any point. There are actual taped reminiscences of aged American slaves and hundreds of historical images. For illustrations and ideas about grace, consult Philip Yancey’s classic What’s So Amazing About Grace. If you are able to show videos, a clip from the early scenes of Spielberg’s film Amistad could be very useful in portraying the cruelty and barbarity of slavery, which Wilberforce challenged. For Wilberforce and Newton, there are many non-copyright images online.

Amazing Grace: 'ready-to-adapt' all-age sermon outline by John Allan

Slavery in yesterday's world

Bring two (fairly extrovert and confident!) children up to the front. Tell them that one of them has to go to the back of the room to pick up some chocolate which you've left there, which they can then share. The problem is: he cannot move a muscle without a direct instruction from the other one ("three steps forward... turn left... now bend down... pick up chocolate..." and so on).

Let them try it (cut it short if it becomes boring and give them the chocolate anyway!). Ask the "slave": how did it feel to have no freedom at all? How would you feel if I asked you to carry on like that for the rest of the week?

Explain what slavery is all about: the denial of personal freedom of choice and movement. Outline what it was like to be an African slave brought to America in the eighteenth century. Explain that many people didn't think it was too wrong, because (a) they didn't really know how badly the slaves were treated and (b) they didn't think society could work properly if there weren't slaves.

Talk about Wilberforce, and how his conversion made him determined to make an impact on the world for God. His childhood local vicar, John Newton, who had been a slave trader, urged him to stay in politics and set people free. And that's what Wilberforce did - although it took him nearly twenty years to achieve his aim. He knew God was with him, and that was all that mattered.

Say: his story teaches us three lessons. First, we mustn't do things just because everyone else does them. The majority can be wrong! (Perhaps use a story here about someone who had a dream which everyone else said was crazy - Wilbur and Orville Wright? Edison inventing the light bulb?) Second, God can use you wherever you are; you don't need to be a vicar or full-time worker. And third, sometimes you don't succeed immediately, but if you are doing what is right, you'll win in the end!

Highlight what Paul says to the Corinthians about the weak things of the world...???SLAVERY IN TODAY'S WORLD??Produce a globe of the world, and point out places where slavery still exists (get the facts from Set All Free, Anti-Slavery or Amnesty International). Talk about the different ways it may work: e.g. "people trafficking" where people are forced under threat to leave home and work without rights for no real income. Mention that our own country isn't exempt (you might wish to remind them of incidents such as the Morecambe Bay cockle-gatherers tragedy). Depending on the youth of your audience, it might help to challenge the congregation with a True/False test, e.g.:

Most slavery took place in the eighteenth century (false - 15m Africans were enslaved then; up to 27m people are slaves today)?After 1807 all slaves in British territory were free (false - that took until 1838)?8.4 million children today are caught up in slavery or people trafficking (true)?Over half a million people are "trafficked" across borders each year (true - it's between 600,000 and 800,000)

Say: we can't stand idly by and watch this happen. We are as responsible for change as Wilberforce was in his day! Talk about some things adults could do...

Slavery in my life

Ask how many people never do anything wrong... then how many do wrong things they don't really want to do, but can't help themselves... then how many people have tried to make themselves better, and haven't managed. Say: this is because (the Bible says) we're all slaves inside - chained up in our own evil natures, as Romans 7 illustrates. But it needn't be that way.

Ask: what happens if I throw some metal up into the air? (Then try it!) The law of gravity keeps dragging it downwards. But if you shape the metal like an airliner, and put a powerful enging in it...? A new law takes over: the laws of aerodynamics set you free from the law of gravity, and you can stay up there!

Explain: similarly, Paul says in Romans 8,"the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus" triumphs over "the law of sin and death" which has kept us enslaved until now. Slavery isn't just a physical condition; it can be an invisible spiritual reality. It cost Wilberforce twenty years of fighting to set slaves free, and it cost Jesus the cross to win our freedom too.

That's grace - something we don't deserve, but there for the asking because Jesus loves us. Wouldn't it be daft not to accept what he's won for us, and walk away from our shackles into a new life of freedom?

End by giving people an invitation to do just that...

(Extra illustration: Wilberforce himself wrote that when he wasn't a Christian "I laughed, I sang, I was apparently gay and happy, but the thought would steal across me, 'What madness is all this; to continue easy in a state in which a sudden call out of the world would consign me to everlasting misery, and that, when eternal happiness is within my grasp.'")