Wednesday, 20 August 2014

The Church of South India Golden Jubilee

On September 27, 1947, just six weeks after India became an independent country, the Church of South India (CSI) came into existence. This new church, a union of former Anglican, Methodist, Presbyterian, and Congregational churches, was an event of great ecumenical significance, providing both a model and much inspiration for union negotiations elsewhere in the world.(1) On September 26-28, 1997, the Church of South India celebrated its golden jubilee in Madras (now Chennai) around the theme "Unite, Liberate, Celebrate." Each of the twenty-one dioceses was invited to send 200 delegates to this churchwide celebration (2,600 actually registered), while the host diocese planned to send 20 from each of its 110 pastorates. They were joined by guests from sister churches in India and abroad, including the archbishop of York, the moderators of the Church of Scotland, the United Reformed Church (U.K.), the Presbyterian Church (USA), the Reformed Churches in the Netherlands, the Association of Churches and Missions in Southwest Germany (EMS), the Church of North India, the vice-moderator of the Presbyterian Church in Taiwan, the president of the Uniting Church in Australia, and the metropolitan of the Mar Thoma Syrian Church. The main events were held in an enormous pandal (tent) alongside St. George's Cathedral where the initial union had taken place. 

Those three days of celebration were the culmination of a series of earlier events. A study booklet on the jubilee theme was published in English and the four South Indian languages. There were separate retreats for bishops, clergy, and laity as well as a theological conference, rallies for children and youth, and regional gatherings of the Women's Fellowship.(2) September 14 was celebrated as Jubilee Sunday throughout the CSI. A Commission on Evaluation was also appointed and mandated to report on the state of the church to the CSI Synod at its regular biannual meeting in January 1998.
The festivities in Madras began on Friday morning, September 26, with a flag-raising in the cathedral compound, the opening of an exhibition of Dalit paintings at a nearby CSI school, and the dedication of the Golden Jubilee Auditorium at the CSI synod headquarters. Several hundred people were present for this service of dedication and for the seminar that followed, entitled "Rethinking the Church's Role in Development in the Context of Globalization." Michael H. Taylor, director of Christian Aid in Great Britain, began by contrasting oikoumene, a global habitat that is a "hospitable place for everyone," with globalization, a competitive marketplace. "Our mission," he said, "is to convert 'globalization' into 'ecumenism.'" This is to be carried out by concerted efforts both to reform the global economic order and to resist the institutions of globalization at the local, national, and international levels. To do this, we need a global rather than a colonial or paternalistic church addressing the principalities and powers of globalization in the name of the Gospel and of the poor. The two other speakers, K. Rajaratnam and Ninan Koshy, also saw globalization as negative in its premises and consequences. The former saw the church's role as redressing the economic imbalances globalization had created, while the latter saw it, in terms of the vision in the Twenty-Third Psalm, as challenging globalization at the conceptual and programmatic levels of what we want to achieve through development. 

After lunch the crowds began to gather, and the processions began to move toward the cathedral, where the first mass gathering took place at 5:00 p.m. There was a long line of school children, diocesan delegates, bands, buses, trucks, placards, and floats. There was a lot of noise, decorations, cheer, and milling around on the well-illumined cathedral premises at refreshment stands, bookstores, and handicraft stalls. The opening service of praise and thanksgiving was followed by welcoming guests as well as receiving greetings from some of them and then by a cultural program.

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