The Methodist Church in India: Bangalore Episcopal Area
by S. V. Sampath Kumar
The Methodist Church in India (MCI), inaugurated on January 7, 1981, at Madras, is an “autonomous affiliated” church in relation to The United Methodist Church (UMC) in the United States. The Bangalore Episcopal Area covers two conferences, the largest, South India Regional Conference (SIRC), and the youngest, Madras Regional Conference (MRC).
Some of the Methodist congregations in SIRC and MRC came into existence as a result of the revival meetings conducted by William Taylor in the 1870s in Madras, Bangalore, and other cities.
South India Regional Conference
The General Conference of 1876 approved the South India Regional Conference (SIRC), which was formally organized by Bishop Edward G. Andrews in Falkland Road Hall, Bombay, on November 9, 1876. South India Conference is called the “Mother of Conferences” because from it other conferences were formed over a period of 50 years.
The Methodist Church has always focused on evangelism and mission, education, health and medical care, and social service.
SIRC has 270 pastors ministering to more than 300 churches/ congregations in 11 districts. It has 49 educational institutions, of which six are primary schools, 22 high schools, and 16 colleges. The SIRC also has three hospitals and medical centers, two schools/colleges of nursing, seven other training institutions, 19 hostels, an all-India pharmaceutical industry, and a retirement home for deaconesses. There are a number of day-care centers, community development and child-care projects, and vocational training and career guidance centers.
The vision of Methodist educational institutions is to serve the needs of the socially and economically weaker sections of Indian society. The programs have made great impact and progress over the years. Today our institutions are among the best in India, known for their high academic excellence, spiritual and moral discipline, and holistic development. The Methodist medical institutions, also established with similar goals and objectives, continue to live up to this vision today.
The Changing Scenario
The changes in the social, political, economic, and religious scenario in India, especially in the recent past, have affected the life of every individual and institution. As a result, the Methodist educational institutions have also come under a lot of pressure in terms of their structure and administration. While many institutions, especially in the cities, have been growing and expanding, the institutions in the rural areas have suffered because of financial constraints, competition from other institutions, and other reasons. Therefore, some of our educational institutions are in need of financial help and support to maintain buildings, provide additional facilities, and provide better salaries to staff. One such institution is the Baldwin Methodist Kannada School at Lakshman Rao Nagar ( L. R. Nagar), Bangalore.
Baldwin Methodist Kannada School
The Baldwin Methodist Kannada School was started by the Men's Fellowship of the Richmond Town Methodist Church as a response to a large fire that reduced several houses in this slum to ashes in the mid-1960s. Today, there are 784 students studying in this school with a staff of 20. Most of the children who come to this school are from the L. R. Nagar slum, which is one of the larger slums in Bangalore, with an estimated population of more than 80,000 inhabitants. Studies show that most slum children drop out of school between the ages of 11 and 13 to earn their living, usually through unskilled labor that puts them in a low-income category of society.
The Methodist Kannada School has started a project called “Earn While You Learn.” In this project, dropouts and schoolchildren are equipped with skills for professions such as brick making, tailoring, production of snacks and spices, production of vermi-compost (using worms), and other jobs that require specific skills. This helps them to earn their livelihood as well as continue their formal education. This project is focused on preparing these children for a better future. However, there is a dire need for more “Earn While You Learn” projects, additional classrooms, sports equipment, computers, and other supplies. Perhaps in the coming years, the school will become a model for education and training of economically disadvantaged children.
A Methodist congregation built a small church in the area many years ago. The existing building is dilapidated and needs to be rebuilt.
Madras Regional Conference
It is always thrilling and challenging to look back into history and discover the beginnings of a movement—the glorious heritage of the past—and the unfolding drama, of which the present people of God are a part. It is true that “God moves in mysterious ways His wonders to perform,” and “His ways are not our ways.” God, who knows the end from the beginning, does for us more than we can think or imagine.
The birth and growth of the Madras Regional Conference (MRC) has a history of such fruition. MRC is the youngest of the 12 regional conferences of the MCI. Madras was once a part of the Bangalore district within SIRC. Until 1974, there were only two churches, but in time the churches grew in leaps and bounds and now have established a separate regional conference. This came about because of tremendous zeal and commitment to evangelism and mission of two churches, namely the Emmanuel Methodist Church and the Tamil Methodist Church.
Methodism in Madras
Like SIRC, the Methodist church in Madras was started through the revival meetings of William Taylor, who arrived in Madras on February 4, 1874. The Rev. W. Tindale said: “The meetings were scenes of wonderful Holy Ghost work. Men and women came to the front in crowds. God had condescended to visit us with great monsoon showers of blessings.”
Although William Taylor did not intend to start a Methodist Church, his concern for those converted at his meetings compelled him, as he expressed in his own words, “So the necessity was laid upon me to establish a saved and soul-saving Church.” Thus was born the Methodist Episcopal Church in Madras, the foundation of which was laid on December 17, 1878.
Growth of the Methodist Church in Madras
During the years that followed, up to the beginning of World War I, there was tremendous growth in the churches and educational institutions all over South India. During the years 1887 to 1904, work expanded in the Tamil-speaking areas. The Zenana Mission was a ministry started among women. The work in the Vepery circuit also grew. By 1904, three churches were established: the Vepery Church (which included a Tamil church), the Otteri Church, and the Pudupet Chapel.
The growth of the Tamil work awakened the need to have a separate church building. The foundation stone of the Tamil church was laid on December 6, 1906, by Bishop Fitzgerald, Bishop Ross, Bishop Thoburn, and Bishop Oldham. The Rev. K. R. Gopalah was then the pastor of the church. In 1912, the famous evangelist E. Stanley Jones visited and through his preaching brought 200 people to Christ.
This zeal, however, was dampened during World War I from 1916 onwards. Much of the property was handed over to other Christian agencies. By 1931, with worldwide recession, the funds from the Board of Foreign Missions in the United States dwindled and missionaries were recalled. Since much of the work in the Tamil-speaking areas had come to a standstill, the scene of activity moved to Bangalore.
Up to 1973, there were only two churches in the Madras District. Only in 1974 did the outreach ministry begin again at Pudur. Today, a school and church stand as a monument of God's faithfulness.
Emmanuel Methodist Church planted 27 churches from 1974 to 2004. Tamil Methodist Church, Vepery, during the time of the Rev. Selvaraj Moses, also became involved in church planting in Tiruchi, Madurai, and Coimbatore, and other areas.
The MRC today consists of six districts—Madras, Vellore, Pondicherry, Madurai, Coimbatore, and Andaman Island. There are 56 pastors, 42 pastoral charges, and 30 preaching points. There are 10 institutions having 3255 students, from primary to secondary school levels.
During the last decade, Emmanuel Methodist Church was able to construct nine churches at an estimated cost of Rs. 8,607,790 (US $190,797). The second phase of the Christian education building of Emmanuel Methodist Church was also completed and dedicated in 1995. But Emmanuel Methodist Church, more than a century old, was in poor condition and required immediate repairs. By God's grace, the renovation and extension of the church was completed in December 2000, through the generous contribution of members.
The Future of MRC
The next project before us is to construct a senior citizens' home for the elderly Christians in the area. The project has an estimated cost of Rs. 7,000,000 (US$ 155,159). We have always placed our plans in God's hands and waited on Him and His people to fulfill our needs. The senior citizens home requires financial help.
The Ministry of the Church among Children, Youth, and Women
In both the SIRC and MRC conferences, the ministry of the church among children (Sunday school), youth (Methodist Youth Fellowship), and women (Women's Society for Christian Service) has also been remarkable. All these wings of the church have contributed a great deal to its growth and expansion.
Sunday School—The ministry of Sunday schools and Vacation Bible schools has been very effective in the spiritual formation of children. Every year, thousands of children attending Sunday school and VBS have an opportunity to know the Lord. In fact, there are encouraging testimonies of many children accepting the Lord and committing their lives through these ministries.
Methodist Youth Fellowship (MYF)—The youth in the church today are full of potential and talent and they take an active part in the ministry of the church. It is heartening to know that several well-qualified young people have even left highly paid secular positions to enter full-time ministry in recent years.
The Ministry of Deaconesses and Women's Society for Christian Service (WSCS)—Women have played a very significant role in the ministry of the Methodist Church in India. Today they occupy high positions both within and outside the church. There are ordained women ministers and deaconesses in the church. Women are also providing leadership as managers and heads of institutions and have contributed a lot in the fields of education, medical care, and social service. The WSCS units are very active in ministering to the spiritual and social needs of women and also to children within and outside the church. Many local church WSCS units have projects of their own that serve the needs of people around them. Projects are initiated to impart skills to enable women, especially the economically disadvantaged, to empower and teach skills to improve their financial and social position.
The growth and expansion of the Methodist Church in India, particularly in SIRC and MRC, is a strong affirmation of God's faithfulness. The hope and prayer of the MCI is that God will continue to manifest His grace and power through His church, so that it will continue to bear witness to His love and fulfill the purpose for which it is established. To God be the Glory.
* Bishop S. V. Sampath Kumar is the resident and presiding bishop of the Bangalore Episcopal Area, comprising the South India Regional Conference and the Madras Regional Conference.
Date posted: May 03, 2005