Celebrating May as Asian Pacific American Heritage Month

May 17, 2012

The Hmong Hymnal

By Dean McIntyre*
 
The Hmong United Methodist Hymnal was introduced at the Hmong Christian Community United Methodist Church in Milwaukee, Wisconsin in 2003. The hymnal was the result of 17 years of preparation by a committee composed of members of the church, with Chou Yang as editor. It contains more than 300 hymns, including many from Southeast Asian sources, as well as translations of traditional and contemporary hymns that would be familiar to most English-speaking United Methodists. The hymnal is organized in the same manner as the 1989 United Methodist Hymnal, making use of the same headings and subheadings. It also includes 18 Wesley hymns.
 
As the Vietnam War was ending and United States forces were returning home in the early 1970s, thousands of Hmong people who had supported and cooperated with the United States during the war feared for their safety. The Hmong were a peaceful indigenous, agrarian people of Southeast Asia. Many had fled China under persecution by the Communist government there, eventually settling in Laos, Thailand, and Vietnam. Now, with the departure of the United States, they were fearful of reprisals. Thousands of Hmong people eventually settled in the United States following the war.
     
Today there are nearly 200,000 Hmong people in the USA. More than 150,000 of these are non-Christian. Many of the Hmong Christians are Christian Missionary & Alliance, Baptist, Lutheran, Reformed, and Roman Catholic. There are about 2,500 Hmong United Methodists in six congregations in Minnesota, Wisconsin, and North Carolina, with four other Hmong UM churches in California.
     
Most Hmong Christians used the only hymnal in their language that was available at that time, a words-only edition prepared by the Christian Missionary & Alliance Church. In 1986, the Hmong Community UMC of St. Paul, Minnesota, prepared a text-only hymnal containing 323 hymns, Cov Ntseeg Yesxus Phoo Nkauj, for its own use and for distribution to other Hmong UMCs. By 1990, it was in its fifth edition.
     
In 1999, with Chou Yang as chair of the hymnal committee and hymnal editor, the Milwaukee Hmong Community UMC formed a committee to begin work on a new hymnal, the first in the Hmong language to contain words and music. It was to be patterned after most traditional hymnals, in particular the 1989 United Methodist Hymnal. Sou Yang, one of the hymnal committee members and an accomplished musician and composer, took on the tasks of typesetting, arranging, and composing new music. The first draft of the new hymnal was completed in 2001, followed by copyright clearance and further editing. The final version was completed and sent to the printer in February 2003, 17 years after the St. Paul text-only first edition.
    
Major funding for The Hmong United Methodist Hymnal was provided by The General Board of Discipleship (GBOD), with additional funding from a number of sources, including the Minnesota and Wisconsin Annual Conferences, the Wisconsin United Methodist Foundation, the Asian Caucus, and the Hmong Caucus. Today GBOD is working closely with Hmong United Methodists to develop liturgical and ritual resources for Hmong United Methodists as part of the Open Source Liturgy Project.
 
In other music news …
Complete Works of Charles Wesley Released
 
The Center for Studies in the Wesleyan Tradition at Duke Divinity School has announced that, with the publication of the transcription of "MS Acts," it has completed a project to make publically available, in a single setting, every known poem or hymn of Charles Wesley.
 
The complete collection of verse by Charles Wesley that survives in original manuscripts is available on line, either individually by work, or in a convenient zipped file of the entire collection.
 
The center previously had posted transcriptions of all known verse that Charles Wesley (or his brother John) published during his life. This collection is available on line, also.
 
"Combined, these two collections comprise every poem or hymn known that can be traced with some confidence to the pen of Charles Wesley," said Randy L. Maddox, William Kellon Quick Professor of Wesleyan and Methodist Studies. "They are the equivalent of around a 15-volume printed edition of his works."
 
*McIntyre is Director of Music Resources, Leadership Ministries for the General Board of Discipleship (GBOD).