CHURCH with a HISTORY
"I have lately built a bungalow and a chapel for the natives. It is on the site of the old Towngate School, which being a thoroughfare is an excellent place for preaching the Gospel to the natives. It cost us 250 rupees or 25 pounds. The place of worship is 36 feet by 26 feet and will hold about 120 persons. We hope to be able to open it for public service next Lord's Day".
That was an excerpt from the letter dated August 13, 1835, written by J.W. Gordon, who built the London Mission Memorial (LMM) Church (Church of South India) on the Main Road, opposite the Hindu Reading Room.
Though hardly anything remains of the ancient structure, the marble stone tablets adorning the walls and the writings on them take visitors on a trip down history spanning nearly two centuries. The other articles of antique value which will be the historian's delight, are a silver chalice which is used in the Sunday Mass Communion and a few rare pictures of the original church building.
The chalice was presented to the church by Samuel Paul (of London Mission Society) and his family, on the occasion of the London Mission Society's centenary on August 23, 1895. The nearly 110 year-old silver cup is still shining like new.
The London Missionary Society was started in a coffee house in London in 1794. It flourished under the leadership of John Ryland, a Baptist minister in Bristol. Ryland and his friends started a missionary society by the name L.M.S. to send out missionaries to different countries to teach Gospel truths.
George Crann and Augustus Des Granges were among the first batch of missionaries that was sent to South India in 1804. They arrived in Vizagapatam on July 18, 1805. The first ever Protestant missionaries in the region, they began their missionary work by learning the Telugu language. They mastered the local language in a short time and began translating parts of the New Testament.
Ananda Rayara, one of the early Brahmin converts in India, who is said to have been in the court of Tipu Sultan, but had his roots in Andhra, assisted the early missionaries in the translation of the scriptures, and by 1809 the Gospels of Matthew and Luke were completed in manuscript. In the next three years, four Gospels were published. But tragedy struck the early mission with the death of George Crann in 1809 followed by that of Des Granges in 1810.
A new batch of missionaries, Revs. Lee, Gordon and Pritchett took over the good work done by the founding fathers and the first complete New Testament in Telugu was printed in Madras. "The LMS missionaries were also concerned about the social evils like Sati that were prevalent at that time and believed that good education and teaching of moral truths contained in the Gospel of Jesus Christ would bring about a social revolution in the minds of the people. They adopted a three-pronged strategy of teaching, preaching and translation of scriptures," says Rev. Ch. Joel Alfred Samuel, Father of the LMM Church.
Contribution to education
"The LMM missionaries were also pioneers in starting educational institutions in the region. Mrs. Des Granges was a pioneer in women education and started a girls school for the natives in 1806. An LMM Vernacular School was also started in the same year and a few other educational institutions were started in course of time. They were handed over to the Canadian Baptist Mission (CBM) after the LMM headquarters was shifted to Cuddapah," he says. "The LMM Church was given to the local congregation in 1910. From then onwards, the church had Indian leadership and was managed with Indian funds. In 1947, the congregation united with the Church of South India."
To commemorate the bicentenary year of the first LMM missionaries arriving in Visakhapatnam, the present committee of the church recently organised a `Thanksgiving Service' of the dawning of the bicentenary year.
The Rt. Rev. Dr. G. Dyvasirvadam, Bishop of Krishna Godavari Diocese and chairman of the steering committee of the bicentenary celebrations, delivered the message of God.
A new bell for the church christened, `Ananda Sunadh', in memory of Ananda Rayara, who had assisted in the translation of the New Testament, was installed and memorial tablets in honour of the founding fathers were also erected.
As part of the year-long programme, a three-day event is planned from January 23 to 25, 1995 in which Christian religious leaders from all over the world are expected to attend.
B. MADHU GOPAL
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