Friday, 10 May 2019

The historical Dutch church called Chinsurah Church, West Bengal

Chinsurah , WB. location map . Maps of India
The west Bengal region, being a productive and fertile place attracted the attention of the other European explorers other than the English. The French and the Dutch wanted to establish their supremacy here, but they were no match for the Machiavellian English pioneers who had later established their hegemony here. The European pioneers needed churches for their spiritual needs and thus many Dutch churches came up in West Bengal in the early 19th century.  The towns of Hoogley and Chinsurah were part of Portuguese settlement long before the arrival of other  pioneers from Europe.

The Chinsurah Church, located in the heart of the Chinsurah town is an interesting one.  Founded in 1825, it  was earlier called the Free Church and belonged to UCNI (United Church of North India) before the church union took over  under the management of the CNIIn the 17th century, Chinsurah was a Dutch settlement and had a factory in 1656 and later a garrison in 1759.  However, in 1825, the Dutch ceded many of their possession in India to the British, in exchange for the British possessions in Sumatra. In this dutch settlement there were three churches to cater to the European community and to spread the Gospel of Christ: The Dutch Church (High Church) does not exist  now and  Mohosin College Chinsurah was operating from a portion of the land; Chinsurah Church (Free Church), now  has become the CNI Church; and Armenian Church (near Magultuli Lane, Chinsurah), which  still  exists and is being well maintained.  
West Bengal: Dutch cemetry, Chinsurah Church. 
As for  the Chinsurah Church, it  received financial aid from England only in the early stages. The Church saw its growth under the first priest, Rev. W. H. Michael John (served up to 1848),   followed by other priests like Rev. W. S. Mickey, Rev. Elenter Miller, Rev. J. S. Beaumont.  Since the natives -Bengalis formed a large group, it was decided to have a Bengali priest. In 1871, the Rev. P. K. Chatterjee  became the first Bengali priest priest and at the same time he was a teaching staff at  the famous Chinsurah Duff School, that was founded by the  popular  missionary Rev. Alexander Duff.  The  church has  two parts, one is for the library and the other being exclusively for worship and prayer.  As the congregation grew larger, Rev. S. C. Dey removed the partition and the entire  main church portion came to be used for church services.  At the entrance of the church on the right hand side was a big cannon, which was handed over to the Government in 1963.
Behind the Chinsurah Emambara hospital, close to the river Ganges,  lies the mission property with  a pond and a two storied building enclosed in a huge compound. It was bought by the  Government for a  small  sum of Rs. 6,500. Way back  in the past, some of the priests and evangelists, both male and female, lived in that mission house.  Presently, the Chinsurah Child Development Project  is functioning in  the mission house. The project is  under the Diocese of Calcutta, sponsored by an organisation called Compassion.

Yet another feature of this historical church is its  own burial ground that has the graves of Dutch people who lived and died at Chinsurah.  Even this day  the Chinsurah Church is receiving  funds in the form of grants  from the Danish Government through the Diocese of Calcutta.  Native Christian community members of the Chinsurah Church and of the adjacent  area use this burial ground.

An out-station church at Triveni called Triveni Tissues Congregation is functioning under the direction of the Chinsurah Church. Sunday service is held in the residences of various members by rotation and this being due to lack of proper building.  The people of Triveni Tissues  never fail to  attend major festivals at Chinsurah Church. The credit goes to Rev. Samar Bairagi (retired Bishop), former  pastor of the Chinsurah Church (1961 – 1970) who started the English service once a month. This was of great help to those who were  not familiar with Bengali.   All English speaking  near-by factory workers  attended the English service with their families.  Please note: I find it difficult to get a true picture of this historical Dutch church!!
Chinsurah Church,Chinsurah http://cnicalcutta.org