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A History of the Church of England in India
Since the Early Days of the East India Company

By Eyre Chatterton
Bishop of Nagpur

London: SPCK, 1924.

Chapter XXVIII. Conclusion

AND now, ere we conclude this short account of our Church's work in India, it may be well to recall briefly what has been actually accomplished during these last three hundred years, as well as to turn our thoughts forward towards what we may have to face in coming days. Three hundred years ago the English in India were living in a few big Factories and a good many smaller Factories dotted up and down the coast of Western India, in a few Factories on the Madras Coast, and in the Eastern Archipelago, with its southern head-quarters at Bantam. In the large factories we generally had a Chaplain to look after the moral and spiritual welfare of the factors. That was all our Church was doing from a religious point of view in the India of those days.

If it is true that the British stumbled into their Indian Empire "in a fit of absent-mindedness," it is equally true that no plans and aims for the conversion of India to Christ were in the mind of our Church during that first century of our connection with it. Painfully slowly did the missionary idea grow during the eighteenth century, manifesting itself in the interest which the Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge took in the work of the German Lutheran missionaries in South India. Then with the revival of religious life in England, largely through the influence of the Wesleys and Whitefield, the Church woke up to its duties overseas as the eighteenth century came to an end. Mainly through the influence of Charles Simeon, some most devoted and brilliant spirits among the young men at Cambridge, full of missionary zeal, went to India as Chaplains of the Company.

Then with the beginning of the nineteenth century came a long struggle in Parliament between those who felt we had a Christian duty towards India and those who were for leaving things just as they were. It was a struggle which ended in victory, with the result that our first Bishop came to Calcutta in the year 1815.

Since then, in spite of many difficulties and discouragements, a vast change has come over the work of our Church in India. In 1815, when Bishop Middleton arrived in Calcutta, there were seven hundred thousand Christians in India, of all denominations and races; now there are over four millions, of whom between five and six hundred thousand belong to the Anglican Communion. Then there was one Anglican Bishop in the whole of the Eastern Hemisphere; now there are thirteen dioceses in the Province of India, Burma, and Ceylon. Then there were forty Anglican Clergy and no Indian Clergy; now there are about a thousand Clergy, of whom one-third are Indians. Of these Indians one has been raised to the Episcopate and two are Archdeacons. Then there were only fifteen Churches in the whole country; and now there are well over twelve hundred. Then there was no vernacular Prayer-book, and now the Church of England Prayer-book has been translated into at least fourteen Indian languages. Then the vernacular versions of the English Bible could be counted on the fingers of one hand, now there are translations of the Scriptures into seventy-six Indian languages and dialects, including eighteen translations of the whole Bible. Nineteen million copies of these have been distributed by the Bible Society alone in India, besides the enormous number issued by the S.P.C.K.

Certainly when we recall our tiny beginnings and the long period which elapsed before we woke up to our Christian duty towards India, we may well thank God for all that He has helped us to do during this last century. Yet with our thanksgivings must blend a deep undertone of penitence and humiliation, because, though much has been accomplished, far more might have been done for Christ, if we had been more faithful.

If Bishop Lightfoot's famous remark has any truth in it, that "the study of history is the best cordial for drooping spirits," I think we may draw plenty of encouragement from the past as we turn to face our future tasks in India. Just now we are face to face with a new India in which, with Government increasingly Indian, the Church must inevitably experience difficulties which it has never experienced before. Privileges which the Church has long enjoyed may soon be ours no longer. Before long we shall have almost certainly to do for ourselves far more than we have done before. While we need not doubt that as long as the English are ruling in India, the Government will recognise in some measure its duty towards them in helping them to maintain their Churches and to support their Chaplains, still privileges of even this kind may be ours less and less as time goes on. At the present time there is an interesting movement on the part of our Church in India to sever its legal connection with the Church at home. This movement has not come about quite so suddenly as some may think. Prom the year 1863 Synods of the Bishops of our Church have been held at regular intervals in India. While these Synods have been of value in providing means for consultation and for united action on the part of the Bishops, they have had no status in law, and so no real authority over the members of the Church. Less than ten years ago a further step was taken. Clergy and laity, representative of all our dioceses, together with their Bishops, were summoned to Calcutta by the Metropolitan, to discuss plans for the formation of a Synod of Bishops, Clergy and Laity in every diocese, as well as for the creation of a Representative Provincial Synod for all India. The intention of the Representative Council which drew up these plans was that the rules and decisions of these Synods should have a binding force on all members of the Church in India. While, however, matters were still under discussion legal advice was received from England that the formation of such Synods was illegal, because the Church in India was only a part of the Church of England, and no organisation with such powers existed in England. Accordingly, for the time being, the idea of a fully constituted Synod was abandoned, and Diocesan Councils and a Provincial Council for all India was formed on a voluntary basis. With the passing of the Church Powers Bill in Parliament, and the formation of a National Assembly of the Church of England, it was decided that the time had come for taking the necessary steps to secure legal independence for our Church in India. As a result of this decision, an Indian Church Measure was drafted in England, and has already met with the approval of the Provincial Council in Calcutta. This Church Measure is being discussed at the present time with great interest in every part of India, and is being brought before every one of our Diocesan Councils for an expression of their opinion. Early in 1924 the decisions of these Councils will be considered by the Provincial Council when it meets in Calcutta.

Those who are responsible for this Measure are themselves clearly convinced that the independence which this severance of Calcutta from Canterbury will bring is essential for the well-being and dignity of the Church in India. Some of the gains which the Church will then acquire will be as follows: "Freedom to choose her own Bishops, to settle the boundaries of her dioceses, to hold her own Synods, to bind her members by a voluntary contract to obey the laws made by the Church, to deal through its own courts with those who fail in their obligations, and to adopt her own expressions of faith, worship, rites, and ceremonies."

There are, however, others who believe that the time is hardly ripe for this great change. They fear it will cripple the Church, especially on its English and Anglo-Indian side, very seriously from a financial point of view. They think, too, that the Indian section of the Church is not as yet sufficiently developed to have such large powers entrusted to it.

But if, for a brief period, the difficulties of the situation bulk large we must not allow our minds to be obscured as to the main and ultimate issues of the Church's task in India. She is here to take her share in the conversion of India to Christ. She is here to draw men of every race and creed into the one Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church, of which we are a branch. We cannot have one Church for the Indians and another for the English--we cannot part with those Indian converts whom our missionaries have won to Christ during the last hundred years. We must desire some means by which the English and Anglo-Indians can retain the services they love, while giving to our Indian brethren greater elasticity as regards worship and a power with due safeguards of developing along lines more suited to their peculiar characteristics. And if for a short period of transition difficulties have to be faced, what will these seem to be later on, when compared with the great achievement, whereby the Church of the Factory has become the Church of the people of India?

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