This morning I had the privilege of preaching at St. Stephen’s Ootacamund(Ooty) Church of South India. Two things about the photo – yes, I am wearing a tie; no, there were more than 3 people in the church (there were about 150 there but the photo doesn’t show that.)
The Parish Priest and his wife were very kind and welcoming. The whole experience got me thinking about what it means to be an indigenous church. The service was a classic prayer book communion service. It was held in English and I’m sure most people at RLBC would have known most of the hymns. The church building itself is magnificent (Victorian) and would not look out of place anywhere in England (apart from the wicker seats to the pews maybe). It seems a faithful and lively church and yet I wonder if they are trying to perpetuate a traditional British version of Christianity.
I am currently reading a book – “Turning the tables on Mission” – which consists of the stories of Christians from the global south who have come to the UK to do ministry, as missionaries. Tayo Arikawe (from Nigeria) asks a perceptive question – multi-cultural or multi-ethnic church? By that he means that some UK churches are becoming multi-ethnic in that lots of different nationalities attend, but few are genuinely multi-cultural; that is to say most are still run pretty much according to the assimilating British culture. I think that holds for RLBC too. We need to think about what it means to be a church made up of a mixture of different cultures. It doesn’t mean that we should reject British tradition and styles and replace them with Tamil or African ones. Rather it means that the way we worship, our leadership structures, the way we plan and make decisions – all these things will be affected by the melting pot of all cultures that is RLBC.
The largest people group in the Nilgiri Hills are the Badagas who now have most of the Bible in their own language, although they would all be able to speak Tamil. What is interesting is that it is mostly the new churches that have embraced the Bible translation work of IBT. However, mainline churches (mostly) stick with Tamil or English. After the service a lot of the school children wanted to talk. One girl, Pearl, wanted me to pray for her as she has an operation of a leaky valve in her heart. I did. Please pray for Pearl as she goes to hospital in a few weeks.