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Hallo again to all.

Last month the (Anglican) Church in the Province of the West Indies released its new hymnal. This week it reached Jamaica, where the Jamaica Gleaner, one of the largest newspapers in the Caribbean, was ecstatic about it:

A riveting and engaging new Anglican hymnal designed for liturgical worship in churches across the Caribbean has just been released, and early reactions to this compilation suggest that the publication is destined to be a runaway hit among church congregations in the region.

International reggae icons Peter Tosh and Ernie Smith are included in the hymnal. So too are other Jamaican musical luminaries Noel Dexter, Father Richard Ho Lung, Rev Easton Lee and the late Professor Barry Chevannes. Hypnotic gems like By the Rivers of Babylon (Edward B Henry) are bound to breathe new life into the musical ministry of Anglican churches from Bermuda and the Bahamas to Barbados and Barbuda.

Previously the Church in the Province of the West Indies had been using various editions of Hymns Ancient and Modern, a Church of England hymnal dating from the late 19th century. That makes historical sense, as the West Indies Anglican churches were first established as outposts of the Church of England. But it makes no liturgical sense; the cultural difference between, say, Morning Prayer at King's College Cambridge and Morning Prayer at Christ Church, Vineyard Town (in Jamaica) strains comprehension. It makes perfect sense for Anglicans in the West Indies, whose worship style is so very different from that of Anglicans in East Anglia, to have a hymnal that is equally different.

We were very amused to read this, later in that same article in The Gleaner:

The director of music at St Paul's Cathedral in London, one of the world's high altars of hymnody, refrained from comment on the growing excitement for the CPWI. And a visible casualty of the transition from old school to new is the English national anthem, God Save our Gracious Queen.

That also makes sense to us in a way. We just cannot imagine the hymn "Creation" by Peter Tosh being sung at St Paul's, and we hope we never have to hear "Jerusalem" sung at All Saints in Port of Spain, Trinidad.

If you've never been lucky enough to attend church at a robust Anglican parish in the Province of the West Indies, you don't know what you are missing. Worship in the West Indies is participatory. People speak up, people sing out, people join in. And so many parishioners have real musical talent. You've never fully experienced a hymn until you've been part of a thousand-strong Caribbean congregation singing it at the top of their voices in four-part harmony and exactly on key. By contrast, we've attended the 10:00 Sung Eucharist at York Minster where we were reasonably certain that no one but us in the congregation was actually singing the hymns; the rest were listening to the (excellent) choir and reading along.

Beyond our excitement at the release of this years-in-the-making hymnal, we are also intrigued by the various ways that formerly-colonial cultures express their differences with the root English culture. Some bishops issue angry statements about what heathens we are. Others send missionaries to America and England. Some compile hymnals. We wonder whether it is more effective to shout at someone that he has strayed from The Faith Once Revealed, or to perform "Sing de Chorus Clap Yuh Han" for him.

As soon as we figure out whence it can be ordered, we intend to buy ourselves copies of the CPWI Hymnal. Whether we can convince our parish authorities to allow some of the less-English hymns to be sung here is a separate issue. If not, we'll try gathering a few hundred friends with tremendous musical talent, beg access to a pipe organ somewhere, and sing them ourselves.

See you next week, wondering whether Jah is My Keepa.

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Last updated: 17 July 2011

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