imageHot bulging bus into Vellore centre this morning, getting off at the famous Fort for appointment with the vicar/pastor of St John’s church Vellore (already mentioned in previous blogs). Learnt a lot more about this progressive proactive church which is part of CSI and Vellore diocese but unique within that – major reason is probably that majority of the congregation are part of the Christian Medical College Hospital and focused on Christian social action and ethics and work with the needy, highly educated and motivated, and probably fairly wealthy and certainly very giving. Pastor is great too. He trained at Gurukul college in Chennai where I’m going tomorrow for next 5 days – Lutheran college but ecumenical training so he needed extra stuff for ordination in Anglican Church, which is now within CSI (church of South India). He was then pastor in a parish for 5 years before 2 year MA in chennai. Been 1 year here but priests can only stay 5 years then get moved to somewhere else – don’t choose where, just placed! 80 pastors in the diocese meeting once month for fellowship but he links to fellow ministers in between too and feels supported – says Indian way of life is focused on fellowship and community anyway so isolation not such a problem as it is for Uk priests. Thinks the West too individually focused so problems arise. Maybe different story for the rural pastors – have minimum 10 parishes and live in city as no houses for them in the villages, so travel long distances all the time.

Gurukul regarded as one of the leading theological colleges in India. Theological students also spend 1 month living in slums as part of training – we should do that too. But he says in the churches across India church members don’t see it as their mission to engage in slums at all. Seems extraordinary to focus inwardly in context of india’s massive populations of poverty particularly. Maybe Catholic Church does a lot better?

imageCSI churches operate quite independently of each other – financially and otherwise. CSI includes Anglican, United reform, Methodist and others brought together fairly recently under one umbrella – some problems exist with defending previously independent denominations and traditions. Diocese doesn’t have much involvement or impact on churches or projects it seems but diocese has little money – churches don’t have to give much to diocese at all (unlike England) and keep their funds for their own church use (many people have now told me that most churches focus on their own needs , building , congregation, growth of numbers etc. and don’t engage or give outwards to the community – and what a vast needy community it is which can’t be missed and literally has to be walked over to get about). St John’s is clearly very different – Pastor and others quickly emphasise church’s focus is to send everything out – people, money, resources, energies, faith.

Social action projects are framed around 5 areas I think (including children and schools, older people, people on the streets etc) and 5 committees/ fellowship groups meet weekly to coordinate activities in each social area (led by lay ministers I think) in different areas across vellore so people can attend. He goes to one in turn each week and then they have fellowship bible study evening. Sounds great.

imageSt John’s does support diocese projects too where possible – usually only church doing so – eg hostel for school children to stay who can’t afford or get to school otherwise. But also setting up and building hostel themselves in another school now. Works alongside NGOs too eg ‘Compassion India’ will sort all the food etc. many other initiatives of St. John’s include big Sunday school – with CMC teachers and follow a programme. Sundays big lunches for anybody on streets to have meal clothes wash scripture and songs if want. Hard to get people to come though – distance, culture contrast, smart and imposing area of the Fort and govt buildings, and probably sheer physical weakness of people on these streets probably all add up.

Likes church link with Lancaster United Reform church and the connections made between communities and people. Every 2 years group goes to the other’s parish and people stay in each other’s houses. Great people links and mutual learning and support and cross cultural understanding. Better than a diocese link – 18 from Ely diocese are here at the moment too! (visited him yesterday so I missed them all by a day, though think they’ve visited a few places I have. Glad to be able to engage here more personally as parish member though – not sure how a diocese link works really and they are put up in hotels which is a shame too). Pastor seemed very keen on adding another parish link which would be really exciting with added links to Seb trust and other projects and mutual sharing between imagechurch, secondary school, homeless work etc. Sets me dreaming of what could be!

interlude of immersion into Hindu temple and fascinating mele of darkly lit, heavily scented, elaborate veneration and worship ‘stations’ in rear area of temple complex. Future weeks of trip will be full of these so more then. Hot feet on burning stones as have to visit temple complexes bare foot. All the burning oils didn’t help tender English soles either! Beautiful ancient temple.

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Ever tried to find the number 2 bus stop in central vellore? Tricky! Took me a while wandering through the streets, always looked at as a strange object! and crossing roads is not easy. Was determined not to give in and accept auto rickshaw though – bus was significantly less than 10 pence for 20 min journey but rickshaw probably only 70 pence. But feel more part of life and safer on a bulging sweaty bus.

Back to say goodbye to Emma and seb trust small team of great people. Met the chap who coordinates the Dreams project – adds things which encourage children to aspire to their dreams, eg just starting music classes and bands in 3 schools, and teach IT etc. also heard more about work with women on the streets via goodbye to paper project, and the Humanitarian clowns who visit isolated communities and people eg shantigramam, and children. Advocacy such a vital part of the work too – sustains projects in local context and usually involves helping communities link to govt resources and funds they should get eg food for pre school children too.

Emma and her team truly inspired and inspiring. Will continue to support all I can – hoping I’ve just been able to help a hilltop village imageget first batch of chickens! And hope I can help link others in UK into this work too. Focus is on making big differences in small and personal ways and not to try to change the world, says Emma. But seems to me that’s how the world is changed and these kind of sustainable community self-led projects, initiated and supported by inspired gracious compassionate sensitive people like the seb trust team, strike me as being a big part in changing the world for the good. They certainly have my vote! Very sorry to be leaving in the morning – hope to be back and have more time to join in and help where I can next time.

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