Much of our communal activity involves listening to someone reading, teaching, or praying. There is one activity in which everyone participates and to which everyone can contribute, namely, singing. So as the number of Farsi-speaking brothers and sisters increase, there is greater interest in using hymns in Farsi.
Translating hymns is extremely difficult. Many of the hymns in common use in Christadelphia follow the poetic traditions of the 18th and 19th centuries which require a higher level of language knowledge than everyday conversation. Once a translator has understood the meaning, they have to find a way to convey that in a poetic way in Farsi.
Poetry sung to music has added complications – it will only really work well if there are the correct number of syllables in each line, and that they follow the correct word stress pattern (for an illustration of the impact of stress patterns, try singing “God is love, his mercy brightens” to the tune of “The king of love my Shepherd”). For people learning the songs, the music itself can present problems. Certain progressions of notes which are common in one musical culture may be rare in another; this means that a British person learning a song for the first time might be able to guess roughly how a line of music ends, while someone else may not. Even if people are reading the same written music, it may be realised differently in different cultures (for example, rhythm may be more fluid in certain types of folk music).
A small selection of Farsi translations of hymns from the green Christadelphian hymn book is available below, and some work has been done on preparing others. Many of these have been produced by Bro. David Golabli (Liverpool); others are drawn from books published by Farsi-language churches. The Anglican Church, for example, has been active in Iran since the 1860s, and so some well-known English hymns have found their way into Farsi collections; however, these apparently sound strange to a modern Iranian ear both in their rhythm and choice of vocabulary. They also require careful checking as the original Anglican/Methodist versions (whether in English or Farsi) may reflect the teaching of those churches rather than our understanding of the gospel.
Some Farsi-speaking brothers and sisters have welcomed the opportunity to join in praising God in their mother tongue; others have commented that they are happier singing in English with everyone singing the same words, and without distracting confusion over rhythm. Either way, having translations available is beneficial as it will ensure that everyone understands the meaning of what is being sung, even if in practice everyone is singing out loud in English. It’s a fluid situation which may change as more Farsi-language hymns become available, and as new members become more familiar with the music and with English.
Translated hymns can be found in PowerPoint files by Amanda Jones: here.