Some people have a certain stereotype of Anglicans – that we are a sedate and formal people, a people whose worship is well-composed and majestic, but perhaps a little too cerebral, or “in-the-head.” Of course, those folks have never been to a Gospel Jamboree! The Gospel Jamboree is a lively and joyful gathering that has its own structure, history, and practice among Indigenous Christians all across North America.
In northern Manitoba, the “Gospel Jam”, as it is known, is an important worship tradition that dates back to early gatherings when Indigenous and non-Indigenous Christians came together for times of singing, preaching, and healing prayers. In our part of the world, this evolved into a wonderful tradition of gathering for a more informal worship time where the much of the singing, preaching, and praying was and is done in the local language of the people.
In a July 2019 article in the Anglican Journal, Archbishop Mark MacDonald highlighted the importance of music in Indigenous traditions: “Singing and music have always been integral to Indigenous spirituality,” says MacDonald. “Indigenous people, if you will, did a lot of what we would call theology in song. A lot of the teachings, ideals and traditions were embodied musically in Indigenous tradition.”” (A General Synod gospel jamboree: What to expect, by Joelle Kidd)
Hymns and gospel songs have been translated into Cree since the Rev. Henry Budd began his ministry in the 1840’s. Budd and other minister knew the power of sung worship and translated the popular hymns of the day so that the local people could connect with God in a powerful way. This work of translation continued, and many hymns of the 19th Century have evolved into something unique in the hearts and mouths of the Cree people with different rhythms and harmonies, heavily influenced by more of a country-western style of singing. People travel far and wide to be part of these gatherings, which are held in the evenings, sometimes over a series of nights.
But a Gospel Jamboree is not just about the music. Guest speakers are invited to preach or share their stories, and opportunities for all participants to give testimony to God are plentiful. Usually, a Gospel Jamboree will also include a time for prayers of healing and anointing. In this way, a Gospel jamboree puts the worship of God back into the hands of the people in a very egalitarian way – anyone is invited to share a song, a story, or a testimony. And because of this invitation, the MC of the Gospel Jamboree has an important role. The MC will circulate a sign-up sheet for any who want to share, and then organise and structure the gathering around those who have signed up. So the Gospel Jamboree is both free-flowing and well-ordered. And of course, all who are in attendance are encouraged to sing and pray along, and sometimes song sheets will be passed out, or simple songs taught on the spot so all can join in equally!
The tradition of the Gospel Jamboree has a deeply significant place in the hearts and minds of many in our Diocese. Judy Wilson, from Church of the Redeemer, Big Eddy, has been enjoying Gospel Jams for her entire life. “We’d all go”, Wilson reminisces. “It was good for parents and grandparents, to them it was like church . . . and for us (kids) it was having fun singing, playing, and dancing.” One of the added benefits of the entire family attending Gospel Jamborees was that the children learned the songs and prayers for a very young age – and those texts are still remembered and shared by those who might not attend church regularly anymore.
Reaching those who might not be in church on Sundays is a significant part of the Gospel Jamboree tradition, especially when the gatherings are broadcast on the radio locally or on NCI (Native Communications Inc). Carol Patchinose of St. Alban’s, Easterville, believes Gospel Jamborees are important because they “reach people who can’t go to church, those who might be sick at home, or elderly, or bedridden.” Caroline Chartrand, also from Easterville, adds that the outreach aspect of the Gospel Jamboree extends to the young people in the community, who come to participate by singing and playing music. “They come and are open”, she says, “Gospel Jamborees are there to spread the Word of God to all people.” Patchinose also emphasizes this point – “They bring all people together, from different churches, native people and white people.” All agree with Rev. Murray Still that Gospel Jamborees are “a great way to gather folks, share stories around the gospel, sing beautiful gospel music, eat and fellowship together and host a healing service with anointing.” And of course, Gospel Jams are a lot of fun!
The Gospel Jamboree tradition invites everyone to share in the worship of the Creator. So, if you have never been to a Gospel Jam but really want to join in the joy, know that you are welcome. In fact, if you are really keen, you are invited to come to Opaskwayak Cree Nation October 4-6 for the Healing Journeys Youth and Elder Gathering which will feature a 3-night Gospel Jamboree. And if you cannot make it, please tune in to NCI Radio ( see www.ncifm.com/network-map for the frequency in your area) on Sunday evening, October 6 and join us in worship – Gospel Jam style!