Supporting the community

Supporting the community

If you are intrigued by red sandstone buildings, then you might have noticed at least one Wesley Church in Bangalore. Of course, such churches are present across India and the world and not all of them are coloured red. But the 125-year-old Wesley English Church located on Promenade Road opposite Coles Park, Cleveland Town in Bangalore Cantonment is definitely an attractive edifice with its hallmark red hue and simple yet elegant architecture.

At first glance, the building may seem like a small chapel. But its high ceiling, large stained glass windows, spacious interior that allows a lot of sunlight and leafy campus, and monkey top roof (a construction style that distracted simians) render it quaintly beautiful. Small wonder that a visitor remarked, “the tranquility inside this is a welcome contrast to the chaos outside”.

The Wesleyan mission in Bangalore is believed to have been launched in 1821 for the English speaking troops, their families and Eurasians with the arrival of Reverend Elijah Hoole and Reverend James Mowat. But they were transferred to Madras and Nagapattinam respectively in 1822 due to their counterparts’ illnesses. This is perhaps why the mission did not expand in Bangalore until around 1874. Incidentally, the Wesleyan order traces its origins to the Methodist Mission founder John Wesley (1703-1791) and his brother Charles (1707-1788), a hymn composer and son of the Anglican clergyman and poet, Samuel Wesley.

Wesley English Church was called the St John’s Hill church until 1953, probably because it is situated on the eponymous St John’s Hill in Cleveland Town. The church formally started as a small chapel with people of all ages and occupations contributing. In fact, there is a window inside the church known as the children’s window as some kids who attended Bible classes had raised funds for its creat­ion.

On 31st July 1888, Rev J. Hudson presided over the open air foundation ceremony of the church during which Rev W L King from the American Methodist Mission and Rev W H G Herre of the Lutheran Mission addressed the gathering present at the time. Four ladies namely Mrs Drummond, Mrs M W  Walker, Mrs Haigh and Mrs Fitzgerald lowered the stones that were suspended from a bamboo scaffolding that had been decorated with palm, acacia and casurina leaves. The initial cost of the church was estimated to be about Rs 18,000 out of which Rs 14,633 was raised or promised according to an announcement made when the construction work was initiated under the supervision of Mr M W Walker.
As per the Mysore District Report of November 1888, the St John’s Hill chapel was almost complete and the site chosen for the edifice was excellent. Services were transferred from a small room to the chapel and space for spiritual services was expanded and the surroundings of the edifice were better. As were other English churches in Bangalore during that period, the Wesley English church was also involved in the vital work of the Soldier’s Home that provided assistance to the garrison troops stationed in the area. And the will of the late W Garrett Esq, handed over the responsibility for the operation of a Pensioner’s Home to the Wesleyan mission as part of its outreach work.

Easter 1889 heralded the formal inauguration of the Wesley English church in the presence of Rev J Hudson from Goudie, Madras. The collection from the overflowing congregation amounted to 140 rupees. The opening services and a sacred concert brought the total to 310 rupees. Mr M Walker of the Bangalore Bank also gifted contributions to the building fund.

According to the annals of the Wesley English church, in 1890, its pastor, Rev Sackett had to leave for England due to his ill health and Rev Crashaw took his position. Many people began to attend the religious services offered by the church, thereby increasing its membership. The 1892-1893 edition of Harvest Fields, a contemporary publication, revealed the construction a beautiful parsonage (official residence of the pastor) within the compound of the St John’s Hill church. “This is over a century old!”, beamed Rev Florence Deenadayalan, the erstwhile pastor of the church pointing to the house.

A home for destitute and orphaned children opened in the compound of the East Parade church and the Young Men’s Christian Association in St John’s Hill founded in 1890. In the same year, the Women’s Improvement Society was set up while in 1894, a home for poor widows was started. These were significant developments as the Wesley chapel reached out to youngsters, needy women and the poor regularly through these organisations.

Pushpa Achanta

1898 saw the launch of the Wesley Guild for youth which became inactive after sometime but was revived between 1901 and 1908. Snippets of the Wesley church history between June 1937 and March 1950 are available in the Wesley Guild Minutes Book. And a record of the guild celebrating its anniversary in 1937 states that 29 rupees 8 annas and 0 pice was spent on refreshments for the event!

The Goodwill Girl’s High School, also located on Promenade Road and the Wesley Home for Elders on Millers Road in Benson Town, are among the institutions connected with the church. Founded in 1855, the former was called the Wesleyan Mission School until it was named after Rev Goodwill, a pastor at the Wesley church and later a principal of the school. Thus, the Wesley church continues to serve the community in various ways.

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