Indigenous church plans online gospel jamboree

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Contributor Verna Firth, of Inuvik, N.W.T. sings "This Little Light of Mine." Photo: Anglican Video

Indigenous Anglican leaders are hoping an online gospel jamboree planned for this Friday will help lift spirits weighed down by the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We wanted to provide a way of encouraging people, exciting them and giving them a sense of community and solidarity in the midst of all these things…to affirm Indigenous identity, but also to affirm Indigenous Christian identity,” says National Indigenous Archbishop Mark MacDonald.

The event, “Gathering at the River,” is scheduled for 6 p.m. E.T. on June 5. MacDonald will serve as emcee, broadcasting by live video over the Internet. It’s expected the event will consist of other live elements as well, while also drawing on pre-recorded video performances submitted by Indigenous Anglicans across Canada. Anglican Video, the Anglican Church of Canada’s video production team, is working with the Indigenous ministries department on technical aspects of the event.

National Indigenous Archbishop Mark MacDonald will serve as emcee. Photo: Anglican Video

“I think people will see it as a sign of hope, and that’s exactly what we want it to be,” says Canon Ginny Doctor, Indigenous ministries coordinator. “We know there’s a lot of people who are feeling really anxious, and feeling almost depressed because we’re in this situation—particularly our young people.”

The gospel jamboree is a tradition among some North American Indigenous peoples, known by different names in different parts of the continent, that goes back almost 200 years, MacDonald says. It began in the eastern United States and then spread up into Canada, often traveling ahead of white missionaries. Typically, there is a shared meal, followed by hymn singing, which is the focus. Interspersed with the songs are testimonies, readings, prayers and other elements. These events, he says, have historically lasted well into the early morning, sometimes until dawn.

Importantly, MacDonald says, they have often also included many traditional Indigenous practices. When the customary ways of observing these practices were outlawed by colonial authorities, gospel jamborees allowed them to live on in a new form, under the radar of colonial law.

“It became a very important place for Indigenous people to express an identity that was basically outlawed—in a safe way,” he says. “So it became very dear to people, and is still quite popular in many, many, many communities across the land.”

MacDonald says he hopes Friday’s online gospel jamboree will include the main elements of a traditional, in-person one.

The event will also feature a performance by Dominic Beardy, of Kingfisher Lake, Ont. Photo: Anglican Video

Though the event is being organized by Indigenous ministries, everyone in the church is welcome to attend, Doctor says.

“Gathering at the River” will be streamed this Friday, June 5 at 6 p.m. E.T. on the Anglican Church of Canada’s YouTube page, and on the Facebook page of the church’s Indigenous Ministries department.

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Tali Folkins
Tali Folkins has worked as a staff reporter for the Law Times and the New Brunswick Telegraph-Journal. His writing has appeared in The Globe and Mail and The United Church Observer.

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