The church of St Peter and St Paul in Olney, Buckinghamshire, has decided to keep a memorial to former slave trader John Newton - who later became a priest and abolitionist – to create an “educational area” to celebrate his life.
A brass plate from the coffin of John Newton, also known for writing the lyrics of the famous hymn Amazing Grace, has been identified as an item of “contested heritage” that could cause offence to the people of the community.
It comes as Church of England parishes are being encouraged to analyse and consider the history of their statues, memorials, monuments and stained glass windows to determine potential links to slavery or colonialism and understand how these artefacts could impact their mission and worship.
Although the Church of England has provided a list of ways to address the issue, including the removal of the items, it is believed most parishes will keep the monuments while providing additional information about the individual’s links with slavery.
John Newton is believed to have been involved in the slave trade for at least 16 years, after which he became a priest in 1764. While serving in Olney he wrote Amazing Grace. A few years later, in 1778 he published a leaflet apologising for his role in the slave trade.
St Peter and St Paul church has said that John Newton’s history with the slave trade will not be “sanitise[d] or airbrush[ed]”.
A church court has granted permission for four pews to be removed so an “educational area” about John Newton can be made.