A Torch to Hold High: 150 Years of Methodism in India
by Elia Pradeep Samuel
The story of Methodism in India begins in 1856 with the coming of William Butler from America. He began the work of the Methodist Episcopal Church at a place called Bareilly.
In 1864, five new stations were functioning. As the work and area of work increased, it was reorganized and called the India Mission Conference.
By 1870, the Methodist Episcopal Church had become a major evangelistic and educational force. James M. Thoburn, an acknowledged mission leader, invited the famous evangelist William Taylor to India to hold revival meetings. As a result, the work of this church spread far and wide throughout southern Asia. William Taylor enabled the church to grow from a limited provincial church to gain national status.
Organized into Conferences
Later, the churches established by William Taylor were organized into territorial groups called missions or conferences. By 1893, the gospel was being preached in 12 languages by this great national church—from Manila, Philippines, to Quetta, Pakistan, and from Lahore, Pakistan, to Madras—covering the whole of southeast Asia. The Christian community in southeast Asia had increased from 1835 members to 111,654. In 1904, the work of Burma and Singapore was set apart as its own mission conference. Pioneers such as William F. Oldham and John E. Robinson managed the new missions. Soon many more annual conferences were organized, totaling 13. Other important US missionaries who came to India were Homer C. Stuntz, E. W. Parker, F. W. Warne, John E. Robinson, W. P. Eveland, F. B. Fisher, H. L. Smith, William F. Oldham, B. T. Badley, and J. W. Pickett. Many of these committed pioneer missionaries later became bishops. The first Indian Bishop was J. R. Chitambar.
In 1939, the Methodist Episcopal Church and the Methodist Protestant Church joined to form the Methodist Church in Southern Asia (MCSA). India underwent partition in 1947 and Pakistan was created. The Indus River Conference asked for a separate bishop for Pakistan. This conference would later be called the Karachi Provisional Annual Conference.
An Affiliated Autonomous Church
India celebrated a century of Methodist work in the year 1956. The celebrations were organized on a very grand scale. The organization of the district conferences and executive boards are landmarks in the journey toward greater participation in mission fields. The Methodist Missionary Society established in 1920 was an indigenous agency funded by Indian resources that sent missionaries of Indian origin to Indian mission fields. Later, missionaries were also sent to South Rhodesia (Zimbabwe), Nepal, Sarawak, Fiji Islands, and other foreign mission fields. This society was later called the Board of Missions of the MCSA and finally the Board of Evangelism and Missions.
Between 1960 and 1961, the work in Andaman Islands passed from the Burma Annual Conference to the Central Conference of Southern Asia, Board of Missions, MCSA. Later this work passed into the care of the South India Conference. In 1976, the Central Conference resolved to consider the status of an Affiliated Autonomous Methodist Church in India with The United Methodist Church, USA. The General Conference of the UMC granted the necessary Enabling Act authorizing the Central Conference of the MCSA to reorganize and become the Methodist Church in India (MCI), an affiliated autonomous church. On January 7, 1981, at Madras, the MCI became a self-governing church. In February 1982, the MCI Book of Discipline was published.
The foregoing could be considered a very brief account of the establishment and growth of the Methodist mission work in India. Needless to say, running parallel to this account is the glorious story of masses baptized, institutions established, and the immense expansion of the work of the MCI.
The MCI has functioned in the background of the contemporary, local, Indian environment at all times. India's social, economic, and political arenas have been a great challenge to the mission work. Praise be to God that India is a secular nation and the church can continue its undertaking.
Being a third-generation Methodist pastor, I have received in abundance the uplifting and molding influence of the MCI. Problems from within and without the MCI add to the thrill and joy of working. There is now a whole new generation of Methodists who have been born into the Methodist family and consider it a thing of pride and honor. I have a wonderful vision for India under the MCI banner. The workforce of the MCI through the length and breadth of India totals approximately 648,000. All of us connected in love will do great work for the Lord.
The harvest is plenty, and in India the laborers are very few. The total number of churches is 2460 and the total number of clergy, 2156, of which 10 are women. The total number of deaconesses is 168. Adapting ourselves to the country's present-day needs and making use of current knowledge in all fields are the keys to successful mission work. There is an increase in the representation of women and youth in all the activities and responsibilities of the church.
The work in India needs the prayers and best wishes of The United Methodist Church in the United States. The achievement of the past 150 years lights up our paths and empowers us to reach many more historic milestones. The MCI today stands in mighty numbers, with commendable accounts of service, and as a prominent institution in Indian society. May God grant all Indian Methodists the commitment and faith to hold high the MCI torch and faithfully pass it on to the next generation.
* The Rev. Dr. Elia Pradeep Samuel is the General Secretary of the Methodist Church in India.
Date posted: May 03, 2005