Wednesday, 8 May 2019

Historical Church of Epiphany, Kolkata - that started the first school for the destitute children!!

The church of Epiphany, Kolkata. cnicalcutta.org
As Kolkata (Calcutta) city  happened to  be the famous trading  center for the East India company and later the colonial capital in the 18th and early parts of 19th century, no doubt, the  ever-active evangelists from the European countries made a beeline to this place not only to spread the glory of their denomination of Christianity but also to convert the natives to the new faith. To attract them, they opened schools, etc and, in a way, it was of great help to those parents who wanted their children to get exposed to western education without losing their moorings in Indian culture. This is the reason why Kolkata has a vast number of historical and  time-honored  impressive churches representing Catholic and Protestant missions.  There are also churches belonging to orthodox  sects of Christianity such as Greek, Armenian, Syrian, etc, and they had their own followings among the Europeans as well as Indians.     
www.oxford-mission.org
The church of Epiphany  in Thakurpukur in South Kolkata belonging  to the Oxford Mission is one of the branches of the Brotherhood and Sisterhood of the Epiphany in India and Bangladesh.  Founded in  1863 by one  Rev. J. Headerling, a CMS missionary, this Church was known as the “Thakurpukur Mission”.  During the period 1850 – 1872. the church served the society well  under the direction of  Rev. James Long  who ministered in this Church. 

In those days, the Indian communities  never took care of  a large number of  destitute children of this area  and their future was a questionable one in terms of education and employment. This church took the credit of being the first one in Kolkata to start a school for those helpless  children and the medium of instruction was in the vernacular language.  Their mission was to bring the destitute children to  the main stream Indian society by giving them basic education and skill to stand on their own in the society. Indeed, it was a good gesture on the part of the church to  have cared  about the poor, helpless children who.if not taken care of, would have become vagabonds or hobos or anti-social people in the society.  Thus this school had set  a precedent in the realm of children's education in this region.  This school had the unique honor of being visited by none other than than the Governor, Bishop of Victoria and Lady Carpenter, belonging to the Christian Missionary Society (CMS) This visit was meant to appreciate the dedicated work done by the church by serving the poor and needy.

Not many people know of the fact that this church played  an active role in the area of social justice by taking the cudgels against the British Indian government and the European landlords who were exploiting the natives. When Indigo cultivation was in full swing, European oppression and exploitation of Indian lands and people in Bengal became  a serious problem which ultimately led to “Indigo Riots”. On  humanitarian ground, the church members supported the natives.  Rev. James Long of this church went ahead and published “Nil Darpan” in English, condemning the irresponsible  attitude of the British government under the Crown and the unethical methods being used by European land owners. Obviously, Rev. James Long  won the ire of the government  and spent sometime in the prison.  It was at this time that this Church also became a centre for socio-cultural cum religious meetings.  There were all-faith gatherings here.

In 1879, Edward Ralph Johnson, Bishop of Calcutta and Metropolitan in India  evinced keen interest in establishing  the Oxford Mission in Calcutta, which  he expected, would be a religious brotherhood with its base in India rather than a missionary society with its roots and headquarters in England.  From administration point of view, it was good move by Rev. Johnson. In this regard, he wrote  to some prominent people in Oxford, Britain  to send some university men to work specially among the students of Calcutta University.  In October 1879,  a positive decision was taken in favor of   Bishop Johnson’s appeal to establish the Oxford Mission in Calcutta,  

The Chapel was built in 1909.  Designed according to the  wish of Father Douglas of the Brotherhood (Oxford Mission), the construction was done under the care of  C. John Grimes (later Archdeacon), who was then  with  the Calcutta Port Commissioners as a civil engineer. Initially, it was decided to have a simple structure and later it was rediscussed to have a better and suitable structure using bricks, stones, etc. The bell-tower  which is a striking feature, was  built in brick in an Italianate or Campanile style (this design had links with some Byzantine or Asian tower-shapes). The roof is  made of brick-red painted corrugated iron, with some  kind of lining underneath and the work was  undertaken in the middle of last century. 

As CMS had cut off its link with the church way back in 1909, the  Diocese of Calcutta, Church of North India is managing it..
https://cnicalcutta.org/church_church_of_the_epiphany. html