Project Canterbury

Beginnings in India

By Eugene Stock, D.C.L.

London: Central Board of Missions and SPCK, 1917.

Chapter XIII. The First University Missions

OUR Universities have from the first taken an important share in supplying our Missions with missionaries. As we have already seen, before any English clergyman had dedicated his life to the work of proclaiming the Messages of the true God to the worshippers of gods many and lords many in India, there were others who gave time and thought and labour to preparing the way. Among them were many able and devoted men from Oxford and Cambridge whose own appointed sphere was to minister to their own countrymen, officials and soldiers and merchants, as chaplains of the East India Company. And although the early English Church missionaries were mostly not University men, it is worth remembering that within the first half of the nineteenth century two Principals of Bishop's College were Fellows respectively of Trinity, Cambridge, and Lincoln, Oxford; that the founder of the Cottayam College in Travancore was a Fellow of St. John's, Cambridge, and the founder of St. John's College, Agra, a Fellow of University College, Oxford; and that two successive Directors of the C.M.S. Missions in South India were Fellows respectively of Corpus, Oxford, and Corpus, Cambridge; to say nothing of other graduates. And since 1850 the number has largely increased. [Before the first University Mission was started, 1877, the C.M.S. alone had sent to India seventy graduates of Oxford or Cambridge, forty-eight of whom had taken honours, and nine were Fellows of Colleges.]

We must, therefore, not suppose that the modern "University Missions" are the only missionary organizations with Oxford and Cambridge and Dublin and other University men on their staffs. In point of fact, the S.P.G. and the C.M.S. together have 150 graduates in India. But there has been great advantage in the Universities having also missionary brotherhoods distinctly their own.

Oxford and Cambridge united to form the first University Mission to the non-Christian world when they responded to Livingstone's appeal to them. But that was for Central Africa. The first enterprise of the kind for India was a Cambridge one.

The idea of such a Mission came from T. V. French (afterwards Bishop of Lahore, p. 90), and the idea was taken up and worked out by Edward Bickersteth, Fellow of Pembroke, son of a former C.M.S. Secretary. But the field of operations chosen was Delhi, at the suggestion of Sir Bartle Frere; and the Mission became affiliated to the S.P.G. Bickersteth himself went out in 1877, and in the same year French was consecrated to the new Bishopric in the sphere of which his original conception had thus materialized. One of his sons was afterwards a member of the Brotherhood. Among other members should be specially mentioned H. C. Carlyon, S. S. Allnutt, G. A. Lefroy, all three having now been in India nearly forty years; also A. C. Maitland, munificent benefactor of the Mission, and R. B. Westcott, one of Bishop Westcott's four sons given to India, both of whom (and others) died at their posts. When Bickersteth went to Japan as Bishop, Lefroy became Head of the Mission, and when he was appointed to the Bishopric of Lahore, Allnutt succeeded him as Head. Dr. Lefroy eventually became Bishop of Calcutta and Metropolitan of India.

The work and influence of the Brotherhood has been of immense value to the Delhi Mission. In fact, its members have taken the largest part of the burden, both in the city and in the neighbouring towns occupied. A Community of Women also, formed in connexion with the Cambridge Mission, has rendered most important service. But the general operations have already been briefly noticed.

Three years after the Cambridge Mission, Oxford followed suit with a Mission at Calcutta. Its scheme was arranged by Dr. King (afterwards Bishop of Lincoln) and Bishop Johnson, then Metropolitan of India; and the first four missionaries, Willis, Brown, Hornby, and Argles, sailed in 1880. They presently formed themselves into the Brotherhood of the Epiphany, with Willis, who had been Vice-Principal of Cuddesdon, as Superior. For some years Dr. Whitehead, who was Principal of Bishop's College, was also Superior, and when he became Bishop of Madras, he was succeeded by Mr. (now Canon) Brown, one of the original four, who has continued to this day, and to whom the Mission is deeply indebted. Four other present members have served over twenty years. The present Bishop of Oxford, Dr. Gore, went out to Calcutta twice, in 1884 and 1890, to encourage the brethren by sharing the work for a short time.

Sir Lewis Dibdin, the present Dean of the Arches, has happily described the Oxford Mission as the modern counterpart of the Franciscan movement in the thirteenth century. "You may read the record of this Mission," he wrote a few years ago, "and fancy yourself back in the days of St. Francis." It has its intensive side and its extensive side. We see the former in its strict daily round of services, and in its rules for the religious life; also in its patient and prayerful efforts to deepen the spiritual life of the Indian Christians, particularly of the very imperfect Christians in the swamps of the Sundarbans, south of Calcutta, and in other parts of Eastern Bengal, where it has taken over portions of the under-manned S.P.G. districts. Some of these people had been Baptists or Methodists or Anglicans in turn, and then Roman Catholics, bribed by the latter to join the one true Church at last, and barely conscious of any difference between the different bodies. [So we learn from the History of the Oxford Mission, by G. Longridge (Murray, 1900). A later edition brings the story to 1910.] A lady who worked among them for some years described her task as "turning mud images into human beings."

Then the extensive work has been chiefly among the students at the Calcutta University and some of the colleges, which only give them, lectures, leaving them to lodge where and how they may, often in the worst quarters both physically and morally. The Brotherhood have also sought to influence the same class of young men at Dacca, the capital of Eastern Bengal, which is another great educational centre, and where the Government have been proposing to establish another University. The education given at these official institutions is of course purely secular, and is prized chiefly with a view to getting Government clerkships or posts as teachers. The Oxford Mission, besides giving Christian lectures and encouraging personal intercourse, opened hostels where some of the students could live, and this system (see also p. 44) is just what is needed. Boarding-schools for younger boys, sons of Christian parents, have been added. These plans are substantially the same as those of other Missions, but they have been worked with singular devotion and tact.

But perhaps the most striking feature of the extensive work has been the publication of a weekly paper called the Epiphany. It was started in 1883 by Philip S. Smith, and afterwards carried on under the editorship of C. H. Walker. Both were specially valued missionaries, and both died at their posts, Walker after thirty years' service. The Epiphany has attained a circulation of 12,000, and exercises a wide and most important influence all over India. It is read by thinking men of all creeds or no creed at all, and its pages are open to any who have questions to ask or views (within obvious limits) to air, while it stands fearlessly and decisively for Christian truth, without a tinge of narrow exclusiveness, dealing patiently with the strange attitudes of the educated Hindu or Mohammedan; for instance, with the common feeling expressed by a Hindu who said, "It is of no consequence to me whether Jesus Christ was a real person or not. So long as I have the vision of the moral beauty which He sets before me, I do not care whether He lived or not!"

A great addition to the effectiveness of the Mission was made in 1900, when a group of ladies joined it as the Sisterhood of the Epiphany. Their work among women, both in the city and in the villages, their girls' schools, their dispensaries, their rescue work, their training of Indian mission-women, have all been prosecuted with unfailing devotion both in prayer and in practical service.

Lastly, the Mission has formed two Indian Communities on similar lines to its own, the Brotherhood of St. Andrew and the Sisterhood of St. Mary. The former, under the leadership of Father Chakravarti, has undertaken an independent Mission to the Garo tribe, living in a district adjoining Assam, its principle being "Indian men, Indian money, Indian management."

The remarkable influence of the Oxford Mission, limited as it is in the extent of the field it occupies and in the number of its members, is acknowledged on all hands. A brotherhood of the Franciscan type appeals to the Indian mind, and the mode of life adopted tells even more than the particular work done, important as that is. One new opening for it seems to be in Travancore, far away from its own sphere of labour, where the ancient Syrian Church has welcomed visits from Canon Brown and other members.

The Cambridge and the Oxford Missions noticed in this chapter were the first of the kind. Subsequently, Dublin University followed with the Brotherhood working in connexion with the S.P.G. Mission in Chota Nagpur, and also with another band in China in connexion with the C.M.S. The Cowley Fathers of Poona, the Wantage Sisters there and at Bombay, and the Clewer Sisters in Bengal, are other examples of similarly self-sacrificing service.

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