ST. JOHN’S CHURCH, BANGALORE – 150+ YEARS OF MINISTRY

St. John’s Church is the fourth oldest Protestant Church in Bangalore. When the British defeated Tippu Sultan in the Fourth Mysore War in 1799, they took over the Bangalore Fort and built a small Chapel there called the “Drummer’s Chapel” in 1803. In 1812 this was shifted outside the Fort and became the present St. Luke’s Church. When the British established the Bangalore Cantonment at Ulsoor in 1809 there was a need for a large Anglican Church to meet the needs of the members of the British administration so the building of the St. Mark’s Church was started in 1808, opened for worship in 1812 and consecrated by Bishop Turner of Calcutta in 1816. However, with the growth of the British Resident’s office and the military establishment, there was soon no room in St. Mark’s for growing British population and so Rev. W.W. Lutyens, the chaplain of the St. Mark’s Church built the Holy Trinity Church in 1848 on the other end of the Parade Ground ridge of the Cantonment.

Early Beginnings:
Rev. R. Posnett, who joined him as Assistant Chaplain of St. Mark’s, realised the need for a separate parish on the opposite ridge of Mootocherry on the edge of the Cantonment with a church, school, reading room and library for the pensioned soldiers of the Company that were settled there and for their Eurasian children who were not welcomed in the Cantonment Schools. Therefore, with the contributions of the officers of the station in 1853 he constructed a small one-room chapel measuring 47 by 16 feet near Haines Road. It was constructed on a low ground in close proximity to a number of kilns. This was used as a school in the morning, as a library for the pensioners in the afternoon and on Sundays as a place of worship. Reference to this room is first made in the file book of the St. Mark’s Church in February 1853. This was the beginning of the present St. John’s Church.
On 23rd April 1853 Rev. Posnett wrote to the Bishop of Madras:
“It should be mentioned that the Divine Services is celebrated twice during each week viz. on Sunday evenings and Wednesday evenings in the School room …but this room is now filled to excess, the attendance for the last few months is ranging from 100 to 115.
It is also proposed to sell the present school room in which there are 52 girls and 16 boys under instruction as it is inconvenient and in an otherwise objectionable position.”

Purchase of a new Site:
Encouraged by the success of this chapel-school-library, Rev. Posnett then approached the Church Building Society for funds to build a separate Church and school. He applied to Major General Sewell, the then General Officer Commanding, for funds to build a chapel and a school, but the idea of constructing a chapel for civilians was new to the British administration and it was refused. Rev. R. Posnett, however, raised the necessary money from the officers of the station and a piece of unused land near the Roman Catholic Chapel was purchased for Rs. 100/-.  It was a site measuring 565 feet on the northern side, 600 feet on the southern side, 310 feet on the eastern side and 500 feet on the west. Rev. Posnett put up an enclosure around it in October 1853 to build the new Mootocherry Church of the “High Anglican Order” with a School and Library.

The Construction of the School and Library:
Rev. Posnett first decided to construct the school building and library for Rs. 2,300/- and decided to use a Gothic architecture so that “they will harmonise with the proposed Church for which the same style has been selected.”  He had the designs prepared by the engineer who had designed the Bangalore High Court (Attarakacheri) and appealed to the congregations to raise the necessary funds. The amount received from the congregation was Rs. 2669 and 11 annas, including ten pounds sent by Rev. C. G. Townsend of Hatfield in England. Thus the congregation involvement with the School was evident right from the start. This financial interest and care has continued over the years. The new School rooms and Reading rooms were completed by 16th May 1854, in approximately seven months, for a total cost of Rs. 2,700/-. Three new schools, one each for boys, girls and infants, were opened on 28th May 1854 with a divine service by Rev. R. Posnett, the Chaplain of St. Mark’s Church. This school has grown to be one of the prestigious educational institutions of Bangalore with approximately 3,000 students on its rolls and offering both ICSE and ISE. It has two libraries and three well-equipped laboratories, including a computer centre for students to keep abreast of technological advances. Its curriculum includes co-curricular activities like sports, NCC, Scouts and Guides.

The Construction of the Church:
In September 1854 Rev. R. Posnett left St. Mark’s Church and handed over to Rev. B. S. Clarke and Rev. D. J. Rogers. Rev. B. S. Clarke made a fresh estimate for the church in September 1854 to accommodate 300 persons at the cost of Rs. 6322/- for the building and Rs. 1433/- for the furniture, which was sent for Government sanction. The sanction letter dated August 1855 was received in Madras on 28th October 1855 and forwarded to the St. Mark’s Church Chaplain. The construction commenced in 1855 as soon as the sanction letter was received from the Directors of the East India Company and the body of the church was nearing completion by 1856. It cost Rs. 6322/-. Rev. Clarke then appealed for the cost of building tower and spire to the Church Building Society who promised to give Rs. 1200/- towards half of the estimated cost of the tower and spire and he appealed to the residents to raise the rest. Unfortunately, it was the poorer residents who attended this church and the richer residents who attended St Mark’s were of the opinion that if any church in Bangalore should be given a tower, spire and clock, it should be St. Mark’s and so the appeal was not successful. 

In early 1857 a request was sent to the government to enlarge the building for 420 persons instead of the original 300 and on 22nd September 1857 the government granted permission to enlarge the building. The Madras Sappers and Miners supervised the building and the total cost, including the enlargement, furniture and compound wall came to Rs. 11,625/-. The Church was consecrated on 12th April 1858 by the Rt. Rev. Thomas Dealtry, Third Bishop of Madras, and dedicated to St. John the Evangelist and so renamed as “St. John’s Church”.  With this the name of Mootocherry was changed to “St. John’s Hill” and the road south of the Church was named “St. John’s Church Road” leading to the St. John’s Road near Ulsoor Lake. The local people called the Church “Sigapoo Oosimatha Koil” which means the “Red Church”.

The appeal to the to the residents for the construction of the tower was in vain, but Rev. B. S. Clarke, Rev. A. J. Rodgers and Rev. T. Dealtry (son of Bishop Dealtry) contributed Rs. 1000/- between themselves and built it by the end of 1858 for Rs. 3,852/-. So the total cost of construction of the church was Rs. 15, 477/-. Rev. T. Dealtry became the first Chaplain of St. John’s Church.

In 1895-1896 a further extension of the church was made with the building of a large chancel to hold the sanctuary and the choir, two front vestries (one for the chaplains and one for the choir) and the large front portico. These were in addition to the small choir vestry and portico on the southern side. On 12th November 1895 the Bishop of Madras laid a cornerstone while starting the enlargement work. As Arthur Selvaraj points out “the Church will complete only if a Portico and a Vestry are constructed on Northern side similar to those on the Southern side.”

Construction of the St. John’s Institute:
During the next 150 years the construction of different buildings in the compound to meet current needs continued. In 1918 the “St. John’s Institute” was built to cater to the soldiers of the nearby barracks. This “served in World War I, in the time of peace and again during World War II as a much-sought place for young soldier lads who craved for friendliness and simple entertainment in a healthy atmosphere.” Today it is our Parish Hall and the large dining area behind it used by the School earlier for its CCF project and now as a dinning hall. The Parish Hall was renovated in 1998. It is here that most of the ministries of the Church take place.

Construction of the Parsonage:
There was no Parsonage in the church compound and the chaplains had stayed outside. Even after 100 years Rev. Holder lived in a rented house on Ware Road. In 1958 legacies from Mrs. Westrap and Mrs. Smith enabled the church leaders to renovate an old cottage on the property and Rev. Holder moved into the present parsonage.

Changes after Independence:
After Independence certain changes took place with the exodus of the Europeans and many Anglo-Indians to U.K., Canada and Australia. The strength of the congregation naturally reduced but it soon grew with many more Indians joining. The services continued under Rev. Holder in the Anglican High Church tradition. In 1962 Rev. Joe Mullins took over as Presbyter and a new era began. The church began to grow dramatically, numbers increased, finances were stabilised and new ministries developed. This led to the development of St. John’s to what it is today. Right from its inception, as we have seen, St John’s was concerned with the poor and the needy. In the early years the congregation collected money to help the poor students in the school with books and uniforms and the poor. In fact in 1886 it was recorded that of the total church collection of Rs. 545-11-3 a sum of Rs. 256-15-4 went towards the School Fund and Rs. 145-15-0 to the Poor Fund or nearly 75% of the total collection. This continued in the later years along with money being given to other institutions like the Divine Light School for the Blind, Leprosy Mission, Friend-in-need Society, etc. However, during Rev. Mullins time a new phase of the caring ministry started with not just distributing money to other institutions, but that the church would care for the needy itself.

The St. John’s Hostel:
The first institution set up by St. John’s Church was the Hostel to care for the Tibetan Refugee children, following the Chinese invasion of Tibet. Starting in 1969 in the present CCF/School canteen room, it shifted to a new Hostel building on the northern end of the campus in 1964. At the start it housed 43 children. The shops and the Petrol Pumps on the northern boundary were built simultaneously to support the Hostel and a Hostel Fund set up. In 1976 a new wing of the hostel was built. It could now accommodate up to 53 children. As the Tibetan children finished their schooling and left others were inducted.  In the early years it was supported by KNH funds and contributions from the congregation members. In 1986 the Hostel was handed over to the Diocese to be run by the CSI/CCC but the church continued to be involved and provide additional care. The Men’s Fellowship is running tutoring classes for the children for over 6 years, which helped them to pass their school examinations. The Youth Fellowship was regularly meeting with them and provided a Table Tennis table for them. The Stewardship Committee with the Youth Fellowship was celebrating the birthdays of the children each month. When the Diocese decided to take over the running of the Hostels by themselves, the Church became a co-sponsor of the St. John’s Hostel along with the School to cover the cost of food, schooling, tuition, books, uniform, etc.  Today we have 14 children from poor backgrounds between the ages of 5 to 16, studying at St. John’s School and the Methodist Mission High School. It is still one of the Church’s projects to the community.  

Asha Nivas:
The second institution to be established on the Church compound was the “Asha Nivas”, an old people’s home, on 12th August 1978. It was established as a project to help the senior citizens of the CSI so that “those who had sacrificed much and cared for others could now come and live in the shadow of the church and in the circle of its caring ministry”. The second phase was completed in February 1983. It now has three blocks with five double suites with attached bath and kitchen and 12 single bath attached rooms. The central block includes a common recreation/dinning room and kitchen. The home is meant to be self-supporting but due to inflation and falling interest rates on fixed deposits, many of the residents find it difficult to meet the increased rates of food, electricity and medical bills. Therefore in 2002 a “Friends of Asha Nivas” Fund was set up to help the residents in different ways.
The present five women residents are not from St. John’s Church but poor persons from the larger community that are cared for by the Church.

Stephen’s Home for The Aged:
Mrs. Kathleen Dorothy Stephen had an abiding concern to shelter the aged and needy that had no support.  So she bequeathed her own home on 14, Clarke Road to the St. John’s Church to be used “for the purpose of looking after the aged and the handicapped” who were unable to support themselves. The home was dedicated on 9th August 1998 and set up with the gifts from the congregation. The running expenses of the Home are met by the interest of the endowment fund and donations in cash or monthly provisions by the congregation members.

St. John’s Cemetery:
St. John’s Church has its own cemetery at Kalpally.  In 1999 we constructed a special Open-air Chapel, the only one of its kind in India. This allows us to hold funeral services there before the burial. Every year on All Saints Day (1st November) a Memorial Service is held in the chapel to remember all the loved ones who are buried in the cemetery.

Church Office and Staff:
In the early years the administration concerned mainly the Church, the cemetery and the School and the Pastorate Committee and the School Committee looked after these. The Chaplain or Presbyter and the Secretary of the Pastorate Committee were those mainly responsible for the administration with a small staff of the Church mali/sexton and the Cemetery caretaker. With the growth of the church and the addition of new institutions like the Hostel and Asha Nivas the need for the appointment of a part-time office secretary was felt and Mrs. Byrne was appointed in 1967. Today the office staff has grown to two secretaries, an accountant, two sextons and a mali as well as the cemetery mali. A separate Church Office building was constructed at the end of the seventies but it had to be knocked down in 2000 to accommodate the new Community Centre. The Church office moved to 3 small rooms adjoining the Parish Hall. These are not sufficient for our needs and the urgent need is to construct a proper office. The Pastorate Committee no meets every month and the administration is divided between 12 sub-committees who look after the different aspects of the ministry of the Church.

Community Centre:
More than 25 years ago, the Pastorate Committee decided to build a larger hall for the parishioners and money began to be raised in several ways. With the growth of the congregation and the activities, the leadership in the nineties envisaged the need for a community centre that would cater to the congregation, the school as well as the extended community. The Community Centre is a joint endeavour of the Church and the School.  Phase I of the St. John’s Community Centre was dedicated on 4th June 2002 by the Moderator of the Church of South India. It consists of a multi-purpose hall that can seat 800 to 1000 people with a stage that can accommodate a 60-member choir. It is equipped with a well-ventilated kitchen and washrooms and a car park. It has a central air cooling system. An audio system, stage lighting and a landscaped garden all add to the ambiance. It is therefore used for church programmes, school programmes, weddings and concerts. Phase II will include an air-conditioned auditorium (a great need in this part of Bangalore) and rooms for the various church activities and activities for the larger community like counselling, etc. 

The Educational Ministry:
The Church has always concentrated on the educational ministry right from the start. Besides the school, the church is involved in other ways. The Sunday School was started in 1957 by Rev and Mrs. Mullins and has grown over the years. It conducts classes in English, Tamil and Kannada and reaches out not only to the children of our Church and Hostel but also to the neighbourhood. It nurtures the minds of the young children up to the age of 13. Special Christmas, Easter and thanksgiving programmes are also held. In 1997 a Teens Club was started for young people between the ages of 13 to 18 to encourage learning the Word of God and applying it to their current circumstances. The Vacation Bible School was started in the 1964 and has become a highlight of the year. It caters to over 250 students, not only from St. John’s Church but also from neighbouring churches and from non-Christian backgrounds. A Church Bible Study is held on the second Wednesday of each month as well as some neighbourhood Bible Studies.

Wings of the Church:
The ministry of the Church and the nurture of its members is often conducted through its Wings. The Women’s Fellowship is the earliest Wing and was known as the Mother’s Union”. With over 65 members at present it meets every Tuesday with a varied and interesting programmes of devotions, Bible study, debates, group discussions, cooking demonstrations, etc. They have a active outreach programme visiting the sick, aged, disabled and mentally challenged. They hold neighbourhood Bible studies as well as an Annual Sale to collect money to support various projects and ministries. The Youth Fellowship was started in 1962 by Rev. Joe Mullins to train the future members of the Church. Its first constitution is dated 1964 and was updated by the Pastorate Committee in 1995. With a motto “Christ above All” it focuses on young adults between the ages of 18 to 35 so as to develop spiritually integrated adults. It meets each Sunday with a varied programme and has won several prizes each year in different inter-church commotions, especially in singing. The Men’s Fellowshipis the youngest of the three main fellowships and was started in 1989 to promote fellowship among men, help in the understanding of the Bible and to serve the Church and the community. They meet on the first and third Thursday evenings and for Bible Studies on the second and fourth Sunday mornings. They discuss various national and ethical issues from a Biblical perspective. They has several social concern projects like the tutoring of the Hostel children, helping in the Friend-in-need Home and feeding the poor. Regular retreats, workshops and special worship services are held. The Golden Age Fellowship to cater to those over 60 years was started by the Nurture and Pastoral Care Committee with the Asha Nivas Committee in 1999. They meet each quarter for an evening of fun, fellowship and learning together.

Ministries to Outside St. John’s:
St. John’s Church has always been concerned with those outside its compound. In the 1963 the Whitefield Church was given to St. John’s for Pastoral care. This church has since become an independent pastorate of the KCD in the CSI. Under the guidance of St. John’s they started a church in Kadugodi. This Church also later attained an individual official status under the CSI.  The St. Andrew’s Church was also placed under St. John’s in the 1960s to help it to grow. In 1967 Colleen Philipz (now Mrs. Vinay Samuel) and others in the Youth Fellowship started an activity club among the poor children in Lingarajapuram, a slum area on the outskirts of Bangalore. This grew into a Sunday School and soon a VBS was held. As many middle class families began to build their houses in this new suburb, a worship service was started which soon grew into a church. In 1964 a plot was purchased in Lingarajapuram on Hennur Road for Rs. 38,000/- and a multi-purpose hall constructed and inaugurated on 26th August 1978 to be used as a church on Sundays and as a school and a handicraft centre for the poor during the week.  This was the start of the Divya Shanti Church as a three-language congregation, which became an independent church in 1984. In the 1970s a group of St. John’s Church members along with other Christians in Whitefield began a prayer group for those in the Sai Baba Ashram. One American devotee Tal Brooke found Jesus Christ through this group, as related in his book “Lord of the Air”. In November 1994 the St. John’s Church helped the R. T. Nagar Fellowship, which started as a house group in the house of Mr R. D. and Mrs. Lily Philip to develop its ministry.  It helped them to hire a church in Sultanpalaya and develop the St. James Church with 20 families. This became an independent congregation under the CSI in 1998. The Church has also been involved with outreach programmes and social concern programmes in the neighbourhood. TAFTEE classes are held in the church to train the lay people in different churches. The Bible Study Fellowship holds its weekly meetings for women each Tuesday in the church.

As St. John’s completed its 150th Anniversary we need to pray that it will continue to minister to the people, both in the church and in the larger community and that its spire will continue to be an inspiration to all around it.

Sources:

  • Appavoo, M. D, 1964 – “A Study of the History of Christian Churches in Bangalore with special reference to the effects of Migration upon their life”
  • Holder, Rev. W., 1950 – “St John’s Church, Bangalore” – Centenary Souvenir 1850 – 1950
  • Samuel, Mrs. Colleen, 1983 – “St. John’s Church Continues…” 125 Souvenir, Maha-Utsav, April 8-9, 1983
  • Selvaraj, Arthur D., 1994 – 96 – “History of St. John’s Church, Bangalore” Articles in PULSE magazine of St. John’s Church, Bangalore
  • PULSE, 2002 – “St. John’s Church In All Its Fullness”
    St. John’s Church, Bangalore, April- June 2002
  • Rev. P. K. Samuel, 2002 – “Welcome to St. John’s Church, Bangalore” in Brochure of the St. John’s Church
  • Samuel, Vinay & Colleen, 1993 – “Rebuilding Families: A Priority for Wholistic Mission”
  • TRANSFORMATION Magazine Vol. 10 No.3 July/Sept 1993.