New Perspectives: Amazing Grace – a powerful lesson by Rev. Heather McCarrel

In the three years I served as their Student Minister we only sang the hymn Amazing Grace once and that one time taught me a powerful lesson. By the time we got to the second verse,“’Twas grace that taught my heart to fear, and grace my fears relieved;” only my voice could be heard.

I looked up from the pulpit and saw an unforgettable sight.  Some had sat down while others grabbed a tissue from the passing tissue box, many were wiping tears from their eyes or blowing their noses.  The pianist and I exchanged nervous glances as I continued to sing; part way through the third verse we stopped all together.

Later, during fellowship, I gently inquired about their response to this hymn.   One of the older women quietly said, “To this day I can still see that small jeep that would drive through the village.”  The others nodded and another woman shared, “I recall the day that jeep came and parked in front of our house; my mother started crying before she even answered the door.”

“Yes, the day we heard about Max it was that jeep.  That day they came about the Smith’s son and the McGregor’s son as well.  It was a sad day indeed.” This from one of the old timers who usually didn’t say much, then while wiping a tear from his cheek he added, “That hymn, Amazing Grace, takes me back to the war years and the news that jeep would bring.”

After a pause he said, “It was just before supper and I recall standing by the stove to mind the potatoes while my Mother answered the door, I can still hear her scream.  We ran down to the garage to get our Father but he was half way up the lane, he had seen the jeep stop at our house, he knew what we had feared.”

Looking straight at me one of the women shared, “Everyone would freeze with fear when that jeep came into the village; afraid it would be their family receiving the bad news.”

She added, “Then we would gather in the cemetery and old Alec would play the hymn “Amazing Grace” on his trumpet as we added names to the war memorial. A village our size never forgets this kind of grief.  We almost lost an entire generation of young men by the time the war ended.”

The room fell silent as I pieced together this collective memory of my parishioners, a military  jeep that delivered death notices and the grief relived as we sang the hymn “Amazing Grace.”

I turned to one of the granddaughters who was savvy with computers and asked, “If we were to get photos of the young men who died could you create a power point for us?”  She was excited by the challenge, so the next two weeks was spent gathering the photos and, on the Sunday, closest to Remembrance Day we all came to see what she had created.

1940’s band music played in background while uniform clad youth smiled back at us, many of them standing in front of familiar houses.

This time I was ready with Kleenex boxes in each pew and tables set up at the front of the sanctuary to hold framed pictures of beloved family members who had served in the armed forces or air forces.  One family brought in an entire uniform which was laid out while another family brought in cherished letters from the front lines.

There was no sermon that day; valuable time was spent in hearing the stories of each young man and there were plenty of sacred pauses as we read off the Rolls and listened to the Last Post and Rouse.

I have made a point to honour Remembrance Day every year since, no matter which church I serve.  It is important to honour the lives and sacrifices made by those who laid down their lives, so we can live so freely and abundantly. Jesus tells us, “No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” (John 15:13)

Rev. Heather McCarrel,
Port Elgin United Church