Project Canterbury

India and the Church
Being Impressions of Some Members of the Mission of Help

Edited by E. Priestley Swain

London: Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge, 1923.
New York and Toronto: Macmillan, 1923.

Essay II. The Church in India, by D. Jenks, M.A. Formerly director of the Society of the Sacred Mission, Kelham; Assistant Secretary of the Missionary Council of the Church of England.

The scope of this chapter is limited by the conditions of the volume to which it is contributed. Being written for members of the Church of England in India, it is needless to consider any other preliminary question than the purpose of the Church. When thus restricted, the writer is conscious of suffering from the disadvantage that he cannot approach his task from a layman's outlook. He has behind him the study of theology and of Church history which inclines him towards a theoretical appreciation. However much he may have tried to see with others' eyes, he cannot hope to succeed in facing the privileges and responsibilities of Churchmanship as they appear to those whose knowledge of life has been acquired in other ways, and whose ideas of Church membership are formed mainly from practical experience built upon the accident of childhood's memories.

Each of us suffers from some disadvantage in his method of approach. The one is in danger of ignoring facts that do not fall in with his theory; the other runs the risk of building too much upon personal [18/19] experience without thinking out the purpose for which the Church exists.

Any attempt to look upon the Church as primarily an organisation, or as a society embodying a particular system of doctrines, may be put on one side. Organisation is not life, but a condition of corporate and historical life. Doctrine is a systematised expression of revelation, and is not identical with revelation. The Church is a corporate fellowship expressing in terms of human life the revelation of Christ to mankind. That the Church, as we observe it at any moment and in any place, is divided by questions of organisation and doctrine, is almost a necessary consequence of the limitations of human character. The purpose of the Church is not, however, changed thereby; it is only the fulfilment of its purpose that is hampered.

There is a sense in which the writer is prepared to express his conviction that Christ did not even intend to form the Church. The Church was inevitable. It is not a method of carrying out the purpose, but is itself the purpose in its working. An acorn does not intend to grow into an oak-tree. What Jesus Christ came to do was to bring fullness of life to mankind. What we, as individual Christians, desire is to share in this life and to make it abound.

The root idea of the Church may therefore be expressed by the word fellowship. All life is fellowship. The excessive emphasis upon individuality has happily given place to a larger psychology, which has reacted healthily upon the extreme individualism of religion, and has made it more easy to think of Christianity in social terms. It is realised that an isolated individual offers no explanation of himself, and that the attempt [19/20] to live an isolated life dwarfs personality. The fullness of personality can only hope to be attained in the experience of fellowship. Where life is healthy this effort is spontaneous. When St. Paul wrote that charity or love seeketh not her own, he was expressing the inherent instinct of life within the fellowship of the Church; and he was also unfolding the development of the individual life within this fellowship.

Man is made for fellowship, and service is an active expression of fellowship. Along this line of thought one may insist again upon the inevitableness of the Church, and may regard it as the fellowship of life which Christ has brought to the world. The Christian way of life is the fulfilment of human life. It is of the essence of Christ's revelation that in all He came to fulfil, to bring to full development.

This fellowship of life is for us necessarily an effort of attainment, and not a mechanical accomplishment. When our Lord Jesus Christ was asked, "Who is my neighbour?" His answer was, "Go, and do thou likewise." Fellowship is a spirit, whose movement of life is observed as purpose. Even if our imagination allowed us to play with the idea of an external fellowship of organisation, we should not thereby have fellowship.

Within limitations, such as belong to the conditions of human life within our experience of it, we have to pursue a Christian fellowship arising out of a Christian fellowship to which we belong, and from which we receive. The conditions of this fellowship involve very tangled relationships, which ought not to be disregarded, since they are part of the fellowship which we inherit, and from which we cannot dissociate ourselves without [20/21] loss. What is the significance of this fellowship for English Churchmen in India?

To appreciate this one ought to think of the way in which historically the fellowship has expressed itself in India as the outward manifestation of its inner life. Such a review, of necessity inadequate through brevity, gives some measure of present responsibility, and helps to bring forward the complexity of the problems that have to be faced to-day. In life one is incapable of denying one's past.

The Directors of the East India Company from the beginning of the seventeenth century provided chaplains for their ships; and later, as the Company acquired land, supplied chaplains in residence at the factories. As early as 1614 a young Indian, having been taught to read and write by one of the chaplains, was sent to England in one of the Company's ships, and after receiving Christian instruction was baptised in the presence of some members of the Privy Council, the Lord Mayor and aldermen of London, and members of the East India Company and of the sister Company of Virginia.

In 1698 the Company's charter contained the requirement that chaplains should study the vernacular for the purpose of instructing the Indian servants in the Protestant religion.

The enormous growth of the Company's territory in the eighteenth century was met by corresponding enterprise in the increase of chaplaincies, churches, and schools; free passages were given in all ships to the missionaries sent out by the Society for the Promoting of Christian Knowledge, and every assistance was given to their work in India.

[22] In 1813 India and Ceylon were made a diocese by Letters Patent, and the Bishop was given authority over the Company's chaplains and over all priests and deacons in Holy Orders of the Church of England and Ireland, including missionaries. The consequences of this step may be traced in two directions. Emphatically the charter of that year declared that the British conscience faced a Christian responsibility in India. We could not be in India as a trading company, acquiring extensive possessions, and obtaining wealth from it, and be indifferent to the evangelisation of the country. That is one way in which the Christian fellowship was expressing its spirit of life.

But involved in this was the establishment of a legal ecclesiastical relationship. India and Ceylon were made a diocese by Act of Parliament. The ecclesiastical status was fixed, whereby on the one hand the Church of England in India was definitely precluded from shrinking into a national fellowship of English Churchmen, with an evangelising enterprise carried on in independence of it; on the other hand, the Church of England in India was bound hand and foot to the conditions of establishment which existed and still exist in the mother-country.

For more than a century the life of the Church fellowship has expanded under these conditions. The one bishopric has increased to thirteen, with great variety in the methods of appointment and of payment. The East India Company has lost its charter, and the King-Emperor rules as Sovereign, acting constitutionally through parliamentary government. The Church of England does not act corporately as a missionary body, but informally through various voluntary [22/23] societies; but every one of the ordained ministers of these societies is under the spiritual jurisdiction of the bishop of the diocese. Chaplains are still provided for the spiritual requirements of English Churchmen, in continuation of the policy adopted by the East India Company, and their appointment is the responsibility of the India Office. They are supplemented by clergy accepted directly by the bishops, and not infrequently the assistant chaplains become establishment chaplains.

Actually what has taken place during these hundred years is a change from the Church of England in India consisting mainly of Englishmen, to a Church of England in India consisting for the main part of Indians. That is the present expression of the life of the Church fellowship in which members of the Church of England, temporarily resident in India, find themselves. And the change is not only that of the race of the majority. With this change it has also come to pass that the larger number of the British members of the fellowship are temporary members; the predominant Indian, and Anglo-Indian, membership consists of permanent members.

A variety of considerations, urgent and insistent, forces upon Churchmen in India a broad and careful study of the conditions of this fellowship under changing circumstances. To deny the responsibility of the fellowship is to reject history. The writer is, however, bound to remember that the policy of the Church of England in India is its own task, which it alone can face as it works out the implications of its fellowship by the spirit of life, as it has done in the past.

[24] Doubtless in the wider fellowship of the Church there comes to its aid the ecclesiastical history of the self-governing dominions of the British Empire, which have secured their autonomy while maintaining their fullness of ecclesiastical fellowship with the mother-country, and which have a united fellowship in each dominion of the people of the country, the permanent colonists and the temporary sojourners. Conditions vary and ecclesiastical constitutions differ, but the fellowship is maintained. In some dominions the oneness in Christ is more adequately expressed than in others; but even where the fellowship is less openly manifested, it exists and only waits for a fuller spirit of fellowship to bring about closer co-operation in Christian life.

But the self-governing dominions do not provide a parallel with India. They merely show that as one set of difficulties has been met satisfactorily, without loss of spiritual fellowship, a different set of difficulties may also be surmounted if there is the same spirit of life.

The problem facing English Churchmen in India may be described briefly as that of setting free for its fuller expansion the life of this united fellowship of Indian and Englishman, so that the fellowship endures while the Indian Christian life is able to express itself without constraint and overlordship, and the English Churchman temporarily in India is neither cut off from fellowship with his spiritual heritage at home, nor required to make such changes in his accustomed spiritual life as shall create a breach in his personal history.

The problem is undoubtedly complicated and difficult. It is, however, not more complicated or [24/25] more difficult than constitutional crises at home through which the mother-country has passed safely from time to time, or through which the Empire is slowly and surely passing in the present. What is vital to the solution is the spirit of fellowship. The purpose of this essay is to face a purely preliminary task. It does not attempt the impertinence of offering any practical suggestions. It asks, What is the purpose of the Church in India? and how can an Englishman qualify himself for the fulfilment of his fellowship?

The present Metropolitan of India has written that "many Englishmen in the country seem extraordinarily slow to picture to themselves how the Indian views the Church, or to realise that, after all, the Church in India should be primarily the Church of the country." To the writer this slowness to visualise the Church in India is not so extraordinary. It is only extraordinarily English. Our Christianity does not easily adapt itself to strange surroundings. We carry our Church of England Prayer-Book with us, and demand wherever we go a Sunday service which shall, as far as possible, transplant us for the time into an English town or village church. This is not altogether to be deprecated. It is easy to laugh at the lack of imagination, or to think that one should enjoy the richness of variety. But we have our spiritual roots in the mother-country; and, however much we may like to consider ourselves emancipated, we are exceedingly conservative in religious practice. Moreover, with our Prayer-Book is bound up much of our best history in life; it is associated with home memories, with school chapel, and very likely to-day our own children are using it in England.

[26] But if only we can see the Church in India in the spirit of fellowship, we shall find that no one wants us to attend services in Marathi or Urdu, or to substitute for the Book of Common Prayer a new office composed by Indian Christians to fit the Oriental genius of worship. The unity of Church fellowship is something altogether apart from and higher than the use of a common book of prayers or of a common liturgy.

In the spirit of Christian fellowship we ought to face that already we are a minority, and that Indian Christians are fretting at a restraint which checks the expression of their fellowship in the Church of Christ. A century ago Bishop Middleton, the first Bishop of Calcutta, founded Bishop's College for the training of an Indian ministry. It is that spirit, possessed by Englishmen at home, and animating English men and women in India, which has brought about the result that to-day the Church in India is hampered by its existing relation to the established Church at home.

One hears at times of the failure of missionary work in India. It is the prodigious success, not the failure, that is knocking at our doors. It is no longer a few Indian Christians who shelter under the protection of the Church of England, but an Indian Church, conscious of its fellowship of life, declaring that it cannot be treated as a subordinate partner. We should rejoice in this success, and co-operate trustfully with the bishops in furthering this expansion of life, proud to be the sons and daughters of that fellowship which has brought 'his to pass, and to be in India when so great a development is shaping itself, which, if handled in the spirit of fellowship, will make this century even [26/27] a greater age of Christian expansion than the past hundred years. In India we ought not to forget that we belong to a fellowship in Christ of which another great Bishop of Calcutta has expressed the character in the collect that is used in the service which is pre-eminently the sacrament and expression of fellowship: "O God, Who hast made of one blood all nations of men for to dwell on the face of the earth."

It is, however, very easy for an English man or woman in India to be unconscious of this situation, theoretically and practically. An Englishman is proverbially averse to theory. He has generally no formed idea of the Church from which he can pass to a sense of his relationship to parochial life. He finds himself a member of a congregation, and therein he experiences his sense of Christian fellowship. The writer well remembers a debate in the Cambridge Union on Disestablishment more than thirty years ago. Speaker after speaker came within a very few minutes to, "Well, at any rate, in our parish at home." And he thinks that a number of Englishmen in India have at the back of their minds a similar thought, and that they find it very difficult to transfer their allegiance temporarily even to a similar condition in India.

The difficulty is undoubtedly there to such an extent that it is not a fair statement to have written of a similar condition of parochial experience in India. Even the parochial experience is entirely different. The individual member is not at home amid his natural neighbours, with whom he has grown up. He himself is only a bird of passage. Even if it happen that he is for a number of years in one place, the congregation and the chaplain are constantly changing like a [27/28] kaleidoscope. It demands a great deal of the individual to regard himself as other than an isolated Christian, much as he has found himself from time to time when on holiday in England. And the difficulty is yet greater, if he began life in India in the mufasal, where there were not regular Sunday services, or if on his first arrival in the country he slipped into the habit of non-church-going. Then he has lost the sense of fellowship: it exists vaguely in his mind, at the best, as something to be taken up again in England.

The English lady is in almost worse position. More often than her husband she has entered into some practical experience of Church fellowship in England; it has in some measure become part of her social life. In India she misses this. The parochial activities with which she has been familiar do not come to her notice here. A strange reticence keeps her in isolation. She may even go to church regularly, and yet not make friends in that way. When the children are too young for Sunday service, it requires the strength of conviction to persevere. Almost as soon as they can be taken to church they go home to England.

But where there is a desire for fellowship one cannot acquiesce in submission to the difficulty of expressing it. A beginning must be made; but it will not be made recklessly, with a ruthless attempt to break down social restraints, and to disregard the normal conditions of life in India. One of the fundamental principles of all Christian life is to do the duty that lies to hand. Even this does not mean that one should volunteer to teach in the Sunday school. Only a very few are suited to such difficult and particular work. It does mean that one will wish to know from the [28/29] padre of the station what is going on there. And the chaplain will have to be invited to give this information, for he will not volunteer it lest he should "put off" his church member.

There is an obvious risk of impertinence when a nobody attempts to make an apologia for a class of men. The excuse in this case is perhaps sufficient, that the chaplains cannot make it for themselves. What one wants to explain is that, as a body of clergymen, they have nothing like the fair chance that they get in England. They are shifted about so frequently that they have not the opportunity to become personally identified with the activities of an English parish, even if such activities were possible. Their congregations also are so changeable that there docs not spring up the same sense of fellowship as is found in England between the laity and their parson.

In these conditions the padre's life is spiritually very isolated; and he cannot fall back upon the fellowship of his brother clergy, whom he scarcely ever meets. He lacks the stimulus that is invaluable to the clergy at home, who have their annual retreat, and the encouragement of associated organisations of spiritual work and parochial activities and experiments. He has therefore to look forward to his next furlough in England, aided by the kindly pressure of his bishop, to re-invigorate himself by a term at his former theological college, or by making use of some long vacation course of study at his university, much as the medical man in India looks forward to Scotland or England as an opportunity to revisit his hospital.

It is not by meeting the padre at the club that any English man or woman has the opportunity to learn [29/30] anything of the Church fellowship in India. He must be invited to the bungalow in the evening and by himself. It may not be the first thing that his host and hostess will learn from him, but in course of time they will get to know that, where one looks for it, there is almost certainly some fellowship to be done with the English people at the station. A young unmarried man very much values the atmosphere of an English home. More especially the English lady will find opportunities, which she will be able to use through social intercourse. It is saddening to think of the numbers who are missing something more satisfying than the club-life, and who fail to get into touch with one another, and so to help to fill out each other's lives. A young wife, straight out from England, wants a great deal more than introductions and advice on Indian servants. There is the Church that has been left behind, and how is she to find the Church in India under such strange conditions, unless she finds it in the person of an English lady who has been longer in the country?

In these matters the chaplain may sometimes be of use, if anyone has told him that he would be willing to show a little attention to anyone that would care for it, or if a lady has expressed her willingness to be of any service that she is capable of if he should ever meet an English woman who would be glad of a little attention. But the padre cannot be of much use in this; what is wanted is that English men and women should be alive to the opportunities of the fellowship as their first responsibility to "go and do thou likewise." And these opportunities are often not seen because they are so indirect; they do not look directly spiritual.

[31] But when one is looking out for the fellowship, it is the chaplain who can give information about the local corporate life, if he is asked to do so. It will be found that apart from the English men and women of the congregation, there is a large Anglo-Indian membership. There is probably a day school, and there may be several outstations. It will be an unusual station if there are not some people genuinely in need of material help, and some permanently sick folk who would feel a new sense of Church life if an English strange lady were to call because she went to the church. If one wanted to know of it, one could find out from this same source that there was a branch of the Mothers' Union, or that the Girls' Friendly Society was doing good work among the Anglo-Indian shopgirls.

Perhaps not on this first evening, but on another occasion, conversation is deliberately brought to the subject of the evangelising activities of the district. If by some unhappy chance the chaplain seems ignorant of what is being done, it is to be hoped that the layman will let him see that, however ignorant he himself may be of missionary work, he does not understand that a priest of God can be indifferent to it. It is, however, far more likely that the chaplain is conversant with this work, and interested in it, but has not talked about it until he was asked to do so.

Slowly or more quickly the Englishman realises the activity of the diocese, helped thereto by the fact that the chaplain has already been stationed in several parts of it. He grasps now that fellowship in the Church of Christ has brought him as an Englishman into spiritual relationship with Indian Christian [31/32] congregations, with educational work of various sorts, with some welfare activities for the general uplift of life, and with Anglo-Indian Christians who are members of his own congregation or who belong to the church of some near railway station. He determines to see something for himself; he visits a school; he and his wife make the acquaintance of some missionaries, and, what is perhaps to them a startling discovery, they find that the missionaries are cultured men and women, who can appreciate a nice bungalow, and who know books. Even if self-sacrificing absorption in their work has caused these refinements of a cultivated mind to lie fallow in some of them, there will be no mistaking their personal worth. The English man or woman by now realises that it is not a question to be decided individually whether the Church of England ought to attempt to Christianise Indians. The fellowship has decided that question, and its spirit has found expression in action. It will not be denied that the spirit is the spirit of Christ.

Thus by degrees the English man or woman in India learns the conditions of fellowship as they present themselves in these once strange surroundings. He hears opinions expressed, keenly perhaps, by missionaries and by Indian Christians, with which he does not agree; but in the spirit of fellowship he tries to see the truth and the experience that lie behind them. He knows that he is only part of a corporate life which has to face certain problems in the Christian spirit. Through using the local fellowship to gain knowledge of his duties, he learns wider responsibilities or realises their difficulties. Fortunately the whole of his Indian life has been equipping him to face these duties with [32/33] intelligence. He understands the nature of the problems as no one in England can grasp them. He realises that almost infinite patience is required, and that he has been placed in a position to contribute counsel. He grasps, too, as probably he had not done in England, that the fellowship does not exist for his sake, and for the good that it will do to him, but that he has been brought into it for its sake, and only for his own, in so far as he allows its spirit to enter into him.

At some stage during this educative process in the duty of fellowship the urgency of the domiciled community has forced itself upon notice. It is a charge upon Englishmen in India which, on the whole, they have faced with great generosity. It is largely a problem of education; it has always been also, and unfortunately it is rapidly becoming yet more, a problem of relief. Bishop Middleton and, to a greater degree, Bishop Cotton laid the foundations of the Anglo-Indian educational system. To-day, apart from large efforts that must be undertaken not only in India but also in England, the future of this part of the Church's fellowship is exceedingly dark. And they represent the permanent element of our English-speaking Church life in India. Once their economic outlook was favourable; but the situation has changed and will change rapidly. The English language is no longer a peculiar asset to them; educational requirements are satisfied annually by an increasing number of Indians; the Government cannot offer them special facilities. A rapidly increasing number of them must join what can only be called the submerged population, unless help is forthcoming altogether beyond the [33/34] present assistance. It lies upon the Church's fellowship in India to see to the local needs of these fellow-Christians, to investigate the necessity throughout India, and to bring the knowledge of the situation with convincing force, and with the weight of personal authority that cannot be set aside, to the attention of the whole Church of England. Indians, not especially Indian Christians, watch our treatment of these fellow-Christians. We cannot divest ourselves of this responsibility; it is the part of the fellowship to bear the burdens of the weak.

This chapter has attempted to face Churchmanship as active fellowship in the spirit of Christ. The reader cannot be more conscious than is the writer how inadequate is the attempt. But he has written in view of a condition of church life of amazing interest and complexity, which calls for the co-operation of all right-minded men and women, and which is insoluble apart from this co-operation. And just because this is only one chapter of a book, he has been able to omit much which must otherwise have found a place in it, and especially that whole range of fellowship's experience which consists of what one receives within oneself from the fellowship of life. The fellowship has been regarded from a limited point of view, almost as though it was exhausted by the bond which unites men and women of to-day. But underlying the whole treatment there has been the implication that this fellowship is Christian, not merely in the obvious sense that its members are followers of Christ's way of life, but in the deeper truth that it is the corporate appropriation of that life of Christ in which is found the spirit that animates life, and which, individually [34/35] taken hold of, is the source of active fellowship and of personal life. There is no such thing as an isolated individual Christian.

Nor can a chapter upon Church life in India be content to omit all reference to a wider issue than the immediate historical future of one's Church surroundings. The fellowship of life has past and future in one glowing present, if the word Christian has any meaning. It has a continuity of history, a heritage of life which has been and is the uplift of mankind. It has faced and overcome in the past problems of greater difficulty than meet it to-day in India. It has triumphed over them with the courage of Christ, inspiring the lives of men and of women with the spirit of noble service. And the fellowship of life embraces the future as well as the past. There is no end to life; the limited personality which now finds its unfolding in the experience and activity of fellowship is the gradual expansion of life into a more complete fellowship, of which as yet the test of experience does not aid us by checking or directing the imagination. The attempts of life now are the attainments that shall be-English Churchmen in India share in a fellowship of varied character, rich in inherited gifts and treasures of life, potent with the opportunities of contributing to future expansion. To think individually of life is to lose the portion of the inheritance; it is the failure to realise the inevitability of the Church as the unfolding of that fullness of life which Jesus Christ came to give man. As we give of ourselves in fellowship, so we receive the increase of life within ourselves.

Project Canterbury