India: 180 years of partnership celebrated

18.8.2022 | Mission News, Global Mission, Moderator, Mission

The Presbyterian Church in Ireland (PCI) celebrated its oldest official partnership this week when senior PCI representatives welcomed to Belfast the Right Reverend Silvans Christian, Bishop of the Church of North India’s (CNI) Diocese of Gujarat.

The relationship with Gujarat spans 180 years and began with PCI’s foundation in July 1840. During the first session of the Church’s inaugural General Assembly when, according to the minutes, Rev James Glasgow of Castledawson and Rev A Kerr of Portadown ‘…consented to proceed as Missionaries to India…for the solemn work of the Assembly’s Foreign Mission.’

Between 1840 and the late 1960s around 300 PCI missionaries served in various capacities in Gujarat. Accompanied by his wife Jenis, during Bishop Silvans’ three-day visit they met with the Moderator, Right Reverend Dr John Kirkpatrick, and his wife Joan, members of the Council for Global Mission and had lunch with some of those who had a connection with the denomination’s work in Gujarat over the years. This included Mrs Frances Martin, wife of the late Rev Alan Martin, who served as missionaries in Gujarat from 1963 to 1968. Rev John Faris and Alastair Rankin, great great grandsons of Rev James Glasgow, were also present.

Welcoming Bishop Silvans, Dr Kirkpatrick said, “It was a real pleasure to meet Bishop Silvans and his wife Jenis, and have the opportunity to talk and pray together. To learn of the life and growth of the Church of North India was a tremendous encouragement to us here in Ireland. At the same time, to hear how our brothers and sisters in Christ continue to live through challenging times, not least the loss of 12 pastors and other leaders as a result of Covid, for example, was inspirational.”

The Moderator continued, “This week saw the 75th anniversary of India’s independence from Britain. As time and history march on, I am pleased to say that our relationship with CNI continues. While we both have challenges that stem from the cultures in which we live, as we talked I saw both faith and joy, a demonstration of the Grace of God. Bishop Silvans visit has been a wonderful encouragement.”

Located on the subcontinent’s western coast the predominantly Hindu state has a population of around 73 million people and is roughly the same size a Cambodia. Today PCI relates to the Church of North India with a primary focus on the Diocese of Gujarat. The Church was formed in 1970 when six denominations came together to form one united church, which is spread over two-thirds of India's land area and has 1.3 million members worshiping in 3,000 congregations across 26 dioceses. Bishop Silvans has led the Diocese of Gujarat since his consecration as bishop in 2012.

During a special lunch held in honour of the Bishop and Mrs Christian, Bishop Silvans spoke of how many people in Gujarat would still refer to PCI as ‘the Mother Church’. Bringing ‘special greetings’ to PCI he said, “It is a great honour and joy to be here in this wonderful land praising God for a partnership that we have been so blessed by.

“This is a unique moment as we celebrate the relationship between the Church in Gujarat and the Presbyterian Church in Ireland. I give thanks to God for a partnership that spans nearly 200 years. Today we are a growing church. My parents saw the work of missionaries from Ireland and the United States, but from the 1970s local leaders have led the way in our shared theology and passion for mission.”

Bishop Silvans concluded by saying, “Across the Diocese, especially in the rural and tribal areas, we have a practical missional strategy organising free classes where we can teach. We have also set up medical clinics. Even though we face many challenges, we are seeing many people come to a faith in Jesus Christ. God is good and is blessing our work, just as he blessed, and continues to bless, the work of Irish Presbyterians.”

Speaking after his first event as the new Convener of the Council for Global Mission, Rev Stephen McCracken, minister of First Ballymoney Presbyterian Church said, “We partner with many churches, Christian institutions and mission organisations around the world, but while they are all important, our partnership with Gujarat is special, as it was the very first place overseas that PCI sent missionaries to spread the Good News of the Gospel.

“Since then our partnerships around the world have grown and developed, especially in practical areas of ministry where we now have 27 Global Mission Workers, who are supported directly by PCI, working in 11 countries.

Mr McCracken, who was himself a missionary for seven years in Malawi continued, “We were delighted to be able to welcome Bishop Silvans to Ireland for the first time since 2013, and to hear first-hand of the work God is doing in Gujarat, where the first seeds were sown by missionaries from our church 182 years ago. While we have been both blessed and challenged by what we have heard, we look forward to developing our relationship as we continue to hold our brothers and sisters in Christ across India in our prayers.”

Photos (1) Right Reverend Silvans Christian, Bishop of the Diocese of Gujarat, and his wife Jenis, with Mrs Frances Martin, the wife of the late Rev Alan Martin, who served as missionaries in Gujarat from 1963 to 1968 and John Faris, a great great grandson of Rev James Glasgow, who went to Gujarat as a missionary in 1840 (2) Bishop Silvans and his wife with the Moderator and Joan Kirkpatrick (3) Bishope Silvans speaking in the Board Room of Assembly Buildings, to his right is the Council for Global Mission's (CGM) Convener, Rev Stephen McCracken (4)  (LtoR) Rev Trevor Gribben, Clerk of the General Assembly, Bishop Silvans Christian, Heather Clements, Convener of CGM's Global Mission Committee, Rev Stephen McCracken, CGM's Convener and Rev Uel Marrs, Secretary to the Council. 

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