Project Canterbury

The Cambridge Mission to Delhi
A Brief History

By Lilian F. Henderson

Westminster: The Offices of the Mission, 1931.

Chapter III. Building the Church

AROUND the apse of St. Stephen' s Church--the Church of the Delhi martyrs--high up above the altar is written in Urdu script the text: "Ye are built upon the foundation of the Apostles and Prophets, Jesus Christ Himself being the chief corner-stone." On that Foundation, the pioneers of the Cambridge Mission began to build the Church of Christ in Delhi; to-day the Mission is still labouring to raise its walls a little higher. It strives to build them so strongly that they may "stand foursquare to all the winds that blow"; to build a spiritual temple of such beauty that more and more of God's children may be drawn to enter and find in His Holy Church the desire of all hearts.

The pastoral work of the city is centred in two parishes: that of St. Stephen's embracing the central portion of the city, and Holy Trinity, a large district on its outskirts. The congregation of St. Stephen's is drawn from all classes, and is a striking witness to the oneness of all men in Christ. Some few years ago this parish, hitherto worked and controlled by the Mission, became independent with its own Indian priest and parochial church council. It is the only parish in North India that has attained self-government, and being independent of any missionary society is in direct connection with the Bishop of the Diocese. For over seven years the experiment has been carried on, and though in some ways great difficulties and even failures have been experienced, it is an experiment which ought to be of special value and great interest to all who are working for the establishment of a national church in India.

As a result of this new step there has been considerable development in the life of the Church. A much needed Sunday school has been started, and also a women's Church club, the object of which is to bring into closer spiritual and social fellowship women members of the Anglican Communion in Delhi. This has been the means of drawing together many Indian Christian young women working in various secular departments, and living scattered all over the city, often cut off from Christian influences and fellowship.

Pastoral work among the educated members of the congregation is chiefly done by visiting, but as many of them live long distances from the Church, and a few families two or three miles away in various directions, it becomes no easy task. As there are more than five hundred families on the membership roll of the parish, it is obvious that visits can only be few and far between. The poorer members, mostly chamar and sweeper Christians, live in unsavoury bastis in the city, and visiting among them has to be combined with the duty of giving instruction in the Faith. In this latter work the Vicar is assisted by lay helpers, both Indian and English, a member of St. Stephen's Community giving part time to work amongst the women of the parish.

The Maitland Memorial Church, dedicated to the Holy Trinity, is situated near the Turkoman Gate, and is the centre of a large area of bastis occupied by the chamars. It is a striking building, Byzantine in style, and was built by the Rev. A. Coore, a former member of the Mission and an architect of remarkable ability and insight, who has left a valuable legacy to the Indian Church in the various churches and other buildings which he designed and built during his long period of service.

Holy Trinity is, in contrast to St. Stephen's, almost entirely the church of the basti Christians. Its interior arrangements are much more Indian in character, and although there are a few benches near the entrance for those who prefer them, the majority of the congregation sit on the ground in the wide open space under the dome. The parish now separated from St. Stephen's, embraces three principal collections of bastis, viz.: Kalan Masjid, Mihrkanganj, and Darya Ganj. These were originally occupied by the Mission when the first great movement of the chamars was taking place, so that Christian families might live more or less together, and find mutual help and strength amid their heathen surroundings. In some of the larger Christian bastis of both parishes there are Mission rooms in which local services and classes are held.

Work in the village districts surrounding Delhi has already been described, but a few words on the pastoral side are needed to complete the picture. The Delhi District, with the country town of Mahrauli as its centre, is in charge of an Indian priest, while a small sub-district, centred at Jangpura, is served by another. Gurgaon, with Sohna and its villages, is in charge of the English Principal of the Boys' Industrial School; Rohtak has an English Priest-in-charge, who is assisted by an Indian priest living at Kharkhauda, which is the centre of the village district. In the more important villages of all these districts are placed catechists and teachers with their wives and families. The senior catechists visit a circle of villages, teaching Christians and catechumens, and holding services; while the juniors run little village schools where necessary, visit, and help with classes and services. The separate work of teaching the women is sometimes undertaken by the catechist's wife, and sometimes by visiting Biblewomen, under the general superintendence, where possible, of an English worker from St. Stephen's Community.

There is little that is spectacular in the work of shepherding these simple folk which have been made of Christ's flock in the villages. Life is primitive in the extreme, and the Pastor must be able and ready at all times to be the guide, philosopher and friend of his people, and deal with every conceivable situation as it arises. He is constantly being asked to settle quarrels and put right misunderstandings. He must be ready to strengthen and encourage his people in times of persecution, and sometimes to be an ambassador of peace to the persecuting landowners. He must deal with those who have lapsed into heathen practices or betrothed their children to non-Christians.

Marriage customs are an ever-present pitfall to the raw village Christian, and it will need years of patient teaching and guiding before the standards of the Christian Brotherhood become firmly established in practice. It is considered to be the most sacred duty of parents to provide for their children's future by securing as soon as possible a partner in marriage.

Hearers, catechumens and Christians are duly instructed concerning Christian marriage customs, and warned that they will not be allowed to marry their children until they are of a responsible age. Betrothals in childhood are allowed if the children are betrothed into other Christian families; but the old urge is so strong that very often the parents in their haste do not stop to make sure that this condition is fulfilled. Other marriage difficulties, too, are constantly occurring, with which the village Padre has to deal, and lapses which he must bring for consultation with the Disciplinary Committee. He must be prepared for heart-breaking disappointments; a promising group of Christians may under pressure of persecution deny their new-found faith and return to heathen ways; others, owing to false hopes of material advantage will gradually grow slack and careless, and also sink backwards. Or it is a struggle to the death that must be engaged in to preserve the catholicity of the church against those who would bring caste divisions into it; here the workers need sympathy and understanding in their endeavour to overcome age-long prejudices and antipathies and grace to bring about the miracle by which Christians of different castes and classes are able to become one in Christ.

And so the work goes on day by day--visiting, teaching; teaching, visiting. And though true progress is incredibly slow there are to be found those who in simple, child-like faith, are trying to follow the Good Shepherd, and learning to know His voice; here a group, there an individual, who are slowly but surely emerging from the darkness into the true light of Him Who is the Light of the World.

Very few village congregations are as yet fortunate enough to possess a church set apart specially for worship, but a good many have mud-and-thatch school-houses in which services are held. A village Celebration of the Eucharist is simple and touching in the extreme. The Priest-in-charge of the district usually arrives in the village during the previous evening, and holds a service of preparation. On one occasion he was much delayed, and the Christians, having decided that he was not coming, had all gone to bed and were fast asleep. On his arrival close upon midnight, he wakened them all up and the preparation service duly took place. The tired and sleepy Christians, far from resenting being thus dragged from their beds to attend a service, were lost in admiration of their Padre's zeal!

At the Celebration, a simplified liturgy authorized by the Bishop is used. A rickety table, or a blackboard mounted on stools often has to do duty for the altar; sometimes a rude Cross is supplied by one of the workers. The congregation assembles; foreheads are bowed to the ground in homage and worship, and the service proceeds. Little children wander in and out among their parents; a pariah dog sniffs at the worshippers, and a cow stands patiently on the outskirts of the congregation waiting to be milked and fed when its master shall be at leisure from his prayers. The service is interspersed with the singing of bhajans, without which no village service is complete. The sermon (often a long one) over, the offertory is collected in a saucer, or failing that, the catechist's bhajan book. The profound yet simple Drama continues, the Holy Sacrifice is offered, the Holy Mysteries communicated, and the Blessing given It may be little that these babes in Christ can understand, but it means to them at least this, that they belong to the Family of God, and have a right to take their places at His Table. Some have gone further in spiritual comprehension. A poor sweeper Christian woman explained it thus to her neighbour: "It's only a tiny piece of the Holy Bread that we are given, but because He gives it, it is enough."

In the shadow of the Qutab Minar, a gigantic pillar which forms part of one of the ancient cities of Delhi, and close to the little country town of Mahrauli, stands a building half Muslim, half Hindu in character. The main structure resembles a mosque; the white cupola is reminiscent of a temple; but crowning both cupola and gateway is the Cross. This is the church of St. John, built in 1928 by Mr. Coore and dedicated in memory of Canon S. S. Allnutt, the central church of a large circle of villages. Here, once a year, comes the Bishop, and in connection with his visitation a Christian "mela" is held, which is attended by the Christians from the surrounding villages. This mela, corresponding in some respects to an old village fair, but with a distinctly religious background, is an attempt to supply the lack felt by the village Christians owing to their being forbidden to participate in the Hindu melas, which involve heathen practices and worship. Sports and bhajan singing competitions are held, and at night a religious drama, interspersed, like the mystery plays of the middle ages, with comic interludes, is performed by the catechists, assisted by certain of the more intelligent Christians. These dramas are usually extremely lengthy, and it is often the early hours of the morning before sleep descends on the tightly-packed crowd inside the marquee where the performance is held. The following morning begins with a Celebration of Holy Communion with the Bishop as Celebrant, after which a procession is formed with Cross and village banners. The congregation of each village, led by its catechist, sings bhajans with immense spirit and fervour, some of the men leaping and dancing with enthusiasm as they go along. The procession wends its way slowly down the narrow village street and back to the church, where the candidates for Confirmation take their places. The Confirmation is followed by a feast, after which the villagers depart to their homes.

The Mission has four principal out-stations, each with small Christian congregations claiming pastoral care. At Rewari, some fifty miles to the south, there are, in addition to the Indian Christians, a community of Anglo-Indians employed on the railway. Services are held in St. Andrew's Church in English as well as in Urdu, and a certain amount of visiting is done. At Karnal, a small town seventy miles north of Delhi, a few families of English Government officials claim with the Indian Christians a share in the ministrations of the Mission Priest. A training school for catechists and teachers is held here from time to time, the course lasting for three months. In Rohtak and Gurgaon, already mentioned, the Priest-in-charge is similarly responsible for serving the few English folk who may be stationed in the place.

The Mission has always felt an obligation to the Parish of St. James's, Delhi, since the time of the Mutiny chaplain, Midgley John Jennings (see Chapter I). For not only were the first conversions in Delhi due to his influence and prayers, but he also collected Rs.20,000 for the establishment of permanent missionary work in Delhi. This sense of obligation, in addition to the opportunities it suggested, caused many members of the Mission to wish that the pastoral charge of this parish might be one of the activities of the Mission.

The opportunity came in 1923, when the Bishop found himself short-handed owing to reductions in the cadre of the Ecclesiastical Establishment, and he then appointed a member of the Brotherhood to the chaplaincy, the Mission holding itself responsible for supplying another man for leave and furloughs. Financially the Mission did not lose by this arrangement, as it received a Diocesan grant covering the stipend and passage of the chaplain. Although this arrangement was technically altered in 1927, the Mission continues to set apart one of its members for this work, thus linking the Indian and European elements of the Christian Church in one communion and fellowship.

There can be no doubt that the closer connection that has in recent years been thus established has been of mutual benefit. Increased sympathy and understanding of the two sides of the Church's work has resulted. The contributions of English Christians to missionary work have expanded; the people have visited various Mission organizations in increasing numbers, and the closer contact has been one of the factors in the revival of the Delhi Mission Association, a band of helpers pledged to further the cause of the Mission in Delhi according to their power and opportunity.

2.--Teaching the Children: Schools for Christians.

We have seen how the Cambridge Mission to Delhi is striving by means of preaching, healing and teaching, to draw those who know Him not to the feet of the Divine Master. We have traced how, by the power of the Holy Spirit, and by means of their labours, an integral part of the Catholic Church has been built up in that ancient city of kings. There yet remains the greatest task of all. In obedience to the last words of the great Commission: "Feed my lambs," the Mission gathers up and consummates all its other activities into the task of training and educating the young life of that growing church.

Besides local primary schools, the Mission has five boarding-schools for Christian children, as well as the provision naturally made for them in Queen Mary's School and St. Stephen's College. This number may seem unnecessarily large, but as the Christian community has members in many different walks of life, and of very different capacities, it is necessary to try to meet a variety of needs, and to provide the best for which each boy or girl is fitted. Not only so, but the Mission must keep her gaze on the far horizons, and work for the future. The Bishop of Tinnevelly, when speaking of his first impressions of the Church in South India, which is more than fifty years in advance of that in the North, said that the educational work which had been done there in the past was undoubtedly the foundation of her present strength. The Mission in Delhi must therefore look upon its schools as the nurseries of the developed church of the future.

With few exceptions, Christians in India are poor, and have sprung from classes which have depended for centuries on their "superiors" for employment and subsistence. When this patronage is withdrawn, that of the missionaries is naturally sought in its place. The result is that the church is, in the North at least, not only poor but dependent. Therefore, one of the first duties of a school for Christians is, not simply to inculcate the lesson of independence, but to make it possible for its pupils to earn their own living. Every school, therefore, aims at equipping boys and girls to support themselves in that walk of life for which they seem best fitted. Only an independent self-supporting church can be an evangelising church, but only converted "all-round" Christians can convert others. So the aim in all the schools is to produce men and women healthy in body and mind, instructed in their faith, and devoted to their Lord, ready to be witnesses to Him wherever He may call them.

In former days, the Mission had numerous little primary day-schools dotted up and down in the city and villages, which were attended by both Christian and non-Christian boys, but circumstances have necessitated the closing of many of these. There are still, however, a few of them left, one of the most important being in Delhi, close to Holy Trinity Church. Picture the scene at this school. A long, rather dark room, a table, and a chair where sits the munshi, of poor qualifications academically, perhaps, but full of zeal and love. Some thirty children in few clothes, and those very dirty, squat on the floor and write on a wooden "slate" with a reed pen. They sing the alphabet with their teacher and chant the multiplication table antiphonally, in a manner which fully explains why all Indian boys' voices crack prematurely. A small boy stands to attention, facing the class, which is drawn up in lines. "Twice one is two," he pipes. "Twice one is two!" yells the class. "Twice two are four!" shrieks the leader. "Twice two are four!" they bawl. And so on up through the table, getting faster and louder as they go, till the cantor breaks down, or his breath fails, when another takes his place. But that is not all. There is a Cross on the wall, and pictures of Our Lord. Christian prayers are said daily, Christian hymns are sung, and the Christian faith is taught. At Holy Trinity, on the Church's feasts, the school has a holiday, the Christian boys attend the Eucharist, and sweets are given out afterwards; for nothing so clearly marks out a "great day" to these children of poverty as "mithai."

But the decline of the day-schools has been more than made up by the growth of the boarding-schools. When Christian families live, as many of them needs must, in heathen surroundings, it is well-nigh impossible to build up the children in strong Christian character, while out of school hours they are exposed to all manner of evil influences and temptations among non-Christian neighbours. There is little hope that in such circumstances the children of converts will progress much further than their parents, and it is therefore essential that they should be removed from their environment, and placed where they can be brought up in a Christian atmosphere, and taught to live a Christian life. It is found that when this is done, any subsequent relapse into heathenism is almost unknown, and the succeeding generation is lifted to a much higher level than could have been possible otherwise.

The Mission's latest development in the way of schools has been specially designed with this aim in view. St. Michael's School, Jangpura, was founded in 1924. It is not far from New Delhi, but completely in the open country, and the buildings are of sun-dried mud bricks with earthen roofs. It is all very simple; just a row of rooms with a deep verandah running along its whole length, built round three sides of a square, with a tiny bungalow tacked on for the Principal. Numbers are limited--not more than forty--to ensure a family life and freedom from a multitude of rules. The children are taught in every way to be independent and resourceful, as most of them come from very poor homes, and need to learn the strictest economy in everything. They make their own clothes, do their own work, cooking, cleaning, washing and mending, water-carrying, gardening, repairing beds, mending roofs and floors--it is yet to be told what they don't do! But they find time to learn some simple lessons and to play many games. In a beautifully kept little chapel they meet morning and evening for prayers, and on Sunday--the happiest day of the week at St. Michael's--they learn the joy of worship and communion in the Holy Eucharist, celebrated by an Indian priest and sung to an Indian setting. The whole life, simple, healthy and merry, is Catholic in the best sense, and its aim is to send back to the villages Christian wives and mothers who will be lights to their own homes.

The same principles, in different external conditions, may be seen at work in the two boarding-schools in Delhi. In the same compound as St. Stephen's (Community) Home, stand the fine new buildings which now house the Victoria Girls' School and St. Elizabeth's School for handcraft. The latter is intended for girls from the very poorest town families, and many of its pupils are orphans, who have been brought up by the Mission. The younger ones learn their lessons in the Victoria School, as far as the Fifth Standard. That means that they can read, write and do simple arithmetic in their own language, but do not learn any English. It is, however, a standard of literacy still unattained by the vast majority of Indian women. When they have reached this stage, unless they prove specially apt for brain-work, they spend most of their time in manual work, including all kinds of home-craft, care of children, etc. They also learn to produce needlework of a very high quality, the sale of which helps to cover part of their own cost. Parents pay only nominal fees, but on bringing their children to school they sign an agreement, as a safeguard against early marriage, not to remove them till they are eighteen. All the girls in this school are boarders. Many of them on leaving school are married very soon, others pass on to the Hospital to learn nursing, while a few become teachers, either in their own school or in other industrial schools.

The Victoria School meets the needs of the now considerable literate section of the Christian community. The girls are for the most part children of Indian clergy and catechists, clerks and small professional men, and others, who can afford to pay small fees, and hope to see their daughters advance to a possibly higher standard of education than they have had themselves. This school takes them to the eighth class, which includes a certain amount of English, and is the stepping-stone to the Government examinations and the lower professional careers. A certain number of these girls also go to the Mission Hospital as nurses and dispensers. The staff consists of two English missionaries, an Indian matron and nine Indian teachers.

The staffs and girls of both these schools, together with the inmates of St. Mary's Home, attend St. Stephen's church on Sunday mornings, and on Sunday evenings meet all together for a special children's service in the beautiful new chapel built by the Rev. A. Coore. Here, too, sitting in rows on the floor, they have their daily services.

In almost every girls' school in India, much of the training has to be devoted to the all-important career of housewife. All three schools are, therefore, run on what is known as the family system, which means that each older girl is responsible for a certain number of younger ones of varied ages, of whom she is the "mother." She looks after their clothes, sees that her children are properly washed, neat and clean in appearance, and if anything is wrong, reports it to the Matron. Each "family" in turn does the cooking for the day, and it is a pretty sight to see the little ones of a family sitting round in a group, rolling the dough for the bread into little balls, or cleverly patting it out with their hands into flat cakes for the "mother" to cook on the iron plate over the fire.

To turn to the boys. Twenty miles south of Delhi lies Gurgaon, the centre of an outlying district of the Punjab. Here, since 1897, has been the Industrial School of the Mission, dedicated to St. Crispin, the patron saint of shoemakers. In general, two types of boy find accommodation here. There is the child of outcaste parents, newly converted to Christianity, but little understanding what it all means, and still under the influence of centuries of degradation. The need for his removal to Christian surroundings has been already touched upon. Or there is the son of Christian working people who want him to become an artisan, either working at his father's trade, or employed as some kind of mechanic. Gurgaon meets both these needs. The chief trades taught are carpentry, which is the basis of many others, and shoemaking. Numbers are limited, and all live in happy co-operation. The boys learn like apprentices of old, by imitating and emulating each other, and by the bigger boys helping the smaller, and being helped by them. When, for instance, a job has to be done requiring the work of several boys, they plan the work out between them, and allot the various parts themselves. Much excellent work is done, and sold at good prices, but the school is not run for profit, but for the interests of the boys themselves. From the proceeds of each boy's work a pocket-money account is built up, so that when he leaves school he has enough in hand to set him up in tools and materials, and keep him going for a time till he can begin to earn. Every care is taken to find good employment for every boy according to his ability. Even those with little, if they are of good character, can usually be found some sort of job which will keep them in touch with Christian influence. For the "lad of parts" there are opportunities of further study, and many of the Mission's best padres, catechists and teachers have had their first training in St. Crispin's. Thus the school is already beginning to take that part in the evangelizing of India which it is hoped all our schools will take in the future.

To meet the more general needs of the Christian community as a whole, there is the "United Christian School," situated in the Civil lines just outside the old City of Delhi. It is called "United" because it is managed jointly by the S.P.G. and the Baptist Mission, though that is not the only sense in which the word is apt. It is a very good illustration in practice of the happy spirit of harmony which exists between the two missions, and a model of co-operation in every sphere.

The Anglican and Baptist communities in Delhi spring from very much the same social origins, and are faced with precisely the same economic and educational problems. Their missionaries, too, inherit the same educational traditions. So the two missions conferred together, and in 1924 the present very satisfactory arrangement was inaugurated. Each mission keeps its own boarding-house, where not only is doctrinal instruction given fully in the Sunday schools, but daily services, with a celebration in the Cambridge Hostel once a week, are held in their own Chapels. But in the school all meet without distinction, and Bible instruction is given to all in common. The Principal is at present an S.P.G. Indian priest, and the Vice-Principal is an English Baptist. The rest of the staff, including another Cambridge Mission man, and an Indian priest, are all Christians, except the Persian instructor.

The school is a "middle" school, like the Victoria School, that being the standard which best meets the general need of the Christian community as it is at present. But it is becoming more and more evident that with small classes and a strong staff, such as is provided there, the number of boys fit to read further has greatly increased, while the technical institutions, to which some of the boys are sent on for further training, now demand matriculation qualifications before admission. The school is, therefore, faced with the necessity for further development if it is to meet these growing needs.

The first aim of the school is to find out what each boy is fitted for, and to give him the best general preparation (not technical instruction) for it. It seeks to develop body, mind and spirit in a well-balanced degree. Games and scouting occupy an important part in the school life, but still more important and interesting is the school mission, already referred to in Chapter II. At the beginning of the school's career it was laid down that "if the Christian Church is to be an active evangelistic agency, the boys who pass through our schools ought to have some introduction to Christian service." Accordingly a mission was started at a village a few miles away, which is visited every week by volunteers from the boys and staff. Nothing ambitious or officious is attempted. The object is to be of service to the villagers. A little elementary "First Aid" for their bodily needs, some lantern slides and lectures to interest their minds, with very humble and natural witness to Our Lord, to those who are attracted. That such work can be done by schoolboys simply and without affectation is due to the genuine and whole-hearted Christian spirit that runs through the school. What strikes a visitor most is that from everybody, whether boy or master, it is always the highest standard that is expected, and in no small measure obtained.

A certain number of Christian boys enter St. Stephen's College. They do not live apart from the non-Christians, but share to the full the ordinary life and activities of the College. Despite their small numbers, they come well to the front in both games and letters, thus gaining just that confidence and self-respect which the leaders of the Christian Community need, and do indeed display in the larger world.

The educational work of the Mission is perhaps that part of all its varied activities which is making the greatest contribution to the mighty task of building the Church. Those who labour at that task, in whatever capacity, know well that only in so far as the building is carried out according to the plans of the Great Master-Builder can it hope to stand the final test; and their effort and their prayer must ever be that in the revealing in fire their building may remain imperishable, and become an integral part of the Catholic Church of Christ in India.

Project Canterbury