Seventh-day Adventist musicians took part in a nationally televised program to mark the Bicentenary of the Abolition of the Slave Trade Act in the United Kingdom. The Adventist Vocal Ensemble, directed by Ken Burton, sang during a National Service of Commemoration at Westminster Abbey on March 27. The service was led by the Queen and aired live on BBC television and radio stations.
During the program the Ensemble sang “There Is A Balm In Gilead”, and joined the Westminster Abbey Choir in singing “Were You There?”
Ken Burton, principal conductor of the Adventist Vocal Ensemble as well as conductor of the London Adventist Choir and the Croyden Seventh-day Adventist Choir, said he looked at the Commemoration service as an opportunity for healing and reconciliation.
He also said the group chose to perform the song, “There Is A Balm In Gilead” with the hope that “as people listen they will hear that God is willing to heal, forgive our sins and make us whole.”
The Ensemble has also been involved in several other broadcasts celebrating the Bicentenary of the Abolition of the Slave Trade Act, which was signed on March 25, 1807. On March 25 they were featured on BBC Radio’s “Good Morning Sunday”. They performed four spirituals and Burton was the faith guest on that program. That same day the group also sang seven spirituals on BBC’s “Songs of Praise”.
Why are the Ensemble and the London Adventist Chorale so involved in these programs? Burton says, “I am almost certainly a descendant of Africans who were part of the slave trade in the Caribbean. I am grateful that many were willing to take a stand in the face of much opposition to ensure the end of this inhuman trade. People from all walks of life, both black and white, men and women, dedicated their lives to seeing the end of the evil horrors experienced not only by Africans but even by many of the Europeans who worked the ships who were often tortured and beaten.”
In celebrating the hymn “Amazing Grace” and the newly-released movie by the same name, Burton commented, “Freedom has always been at the top of God’s agenda, from the beginning of the world and will be a true reality when this world as we know it will give way to a new world where all will be peace and justice. This is my firm belief, and the very thing that gives me hope from day to day.”
Burton went on to explain the significance of the hymn being sung in congregations and churches all around the world this weekend. “Out of this experience, a former slave trader, John Newton, was inspired to write the words to what is the world’s most beloved hymn ‘Amazing Grace’.
Even though Newton continued the trade after writing the hymn, “its own words became the catalyst for change in his own life, leading him to be most abhorrent of the slave trade and one of its chief opponents later in his life,” said Burton.
“This song continues to inspire both people of faith and those who are searching. It resonates with the human soul’s life experiences and desires: the desires for freedom and salvation, the reality of experiencing many ‘dangers and persevering’; the recognition that whilst we do possess a certain amount of strength, it is ultimately something or someone greater than ourselves, outside of ourselves—who can save us. This song recognizes this something as being grace and this someone as being God.”
For more on the Adventist Vocal Ensemble visit www.adventistvocalensemble.com.