Posted by: Titus Presler | February 24, 2010

Christ Church, Noida, illustrates vitality of Indian Christianity

A visit to Christ Church, a Church of North India (CNI) parish in Noida, in the Diocese of Delhi illustrates the vitality and growth of many Indian congregations in their multi-faith environment, where Christians are a small minority.  It also highlights the importance of faithful and visionary leadership that has brought the congregation from a fairly small size six years to now outgrowing its capacity and seeking to plant two more churches in the local area.

The 6 p.m. service on the evening of Sunday, Feb. 21, the First Sunday in Lent, was attended by 50-60 people across the age spectrum, the bulk being men in their 20s and 30s and also including teenagers, families with young children and some older folks.  The simple liturgy, conducted by the Rev. Dr. Paul Swarup, Presbyter-in-Charge, consisted of a long season of hymns and choruses, some in Hindi and some in English from a bi-lingual compilation entitled Songs of Praise, accompanied by organ and violin.  An expository sermon in Hindi and English on Jesus’ third passion prediction and the self-promoting request that James and John made of Jesus (Mark 10.32-45) followed from Mr. Joseph Emmanuel, who works with Youth For Christ.  Another hymn and prayers brought the service to a close in a little over an hour.

A typical 9 a.m. Sunday service is standing-room-only with up to 250 people crowded into a sanctuary that, while ample, is not large.  “If you get here at 9:15 or 9:20, you won’t find a place,” says Swarup, who holds a Ph.D. in Old Testament from Cambridge University.  The morning service includes hymns in Hindi and English, eucharist offered in English/Hindi from the CNI Book of Worship, with bilingual preaching (Hindi and English) every Sunday.

When Swarup came to Noida from St. James, Kashmere Gate, Delhi, in April 2004, attendance was around 50-70 people, the church building had just the sanctuary, there was no parsonage, and the only other structure on the site was a ramshackle affair – a natural enough state for a congregation that had been planted by the diocese in 1987 as the only Christian congregation in Noida with a building of any kind.  The recent growth of the congregation has supported a major expansion of the church to include a second-story multi-purpose hall, and an adjacent parish house that includes education rooms on the ground floor and a parsonage above.  Construction funds were raised from the parish, and there is no outstanding debt.  Christ Church also has a Co-Presbyter, the Rev. Bani.

Noida, served by the Delhi Metro transit system, is an exurban city southeast of the capital where growth has been fueled by infotech firms and film studios.  “The young men in the congregation? – they’re all IT,” reports Swarup.  Major sections of Noida appear to have resulted from careful urban planning, whether for the gleaming infotech towers with their backlit screen billboards or the residential sections.  Although part of the Diocese of Delhi, Noida is located in the neighboring state of Uttar Pradesh, India’s most populous, and its name is an acronym for North Okla Industrial Authority.

Especially striking in Christ Church’s ministry is the welcome it offers to seekers across the religious spectrum.  Communication begins on the walls surrounding the well-kept and appealing church compound.  Bible verses are painted in large letters on the walls in both Hindi and English – for instance, John 3.16 (“God so loved the world . . .”) and Matthew 11.28 (“Come to me, all you who are weary . . .”) – and people pay attention to them.  “The other day I came across a woman standing in front of one of the verses and weeping,” Swarup said.  Almost every liturgy includes at least a few people exploring from other religious faiths, with 10-15 at a typical Sunday-morning service, Swarup reports.  A mid-week healing service also draws inquirers whose faith may be based primarily in another religious way.

On holy days such as Christmas and Easter the parish offers a welcome that brings in hundreds of visitors from other faiths.  “At Christmas we had 600-700 people for our services, but about a thousand visitors came from other faiths throughout the day,” Swarup said.  “The church was open with candles lit, and there were parishioners here to welcome people who wished to come in to pray.”  Swarup explained that many Hindus wish to offer prayer on holy days of other religions as well as their own.  “They know it’s a special day, so they want to come in and pray,” he said.  From Dec. 21 to Jan. 6 the church had huge framed posters hung on its outside walls.

For this welcome Christ Church prepared special four-page and well-printed tracts in Hindi and English entitled “Peace on Earth” and wishing readers, “Merry Christmas and God Bless You!”  The text sketches the lead-up to the Incarnation in Jewish prophecy and the significance of Jesus, using Isaiah 9.6-7; Luke 2.14; and Colossians 1.19-20.  It ends with an invitation: “We must receive God’s peace humbly, as a free gift.  If you have been longing for peace, you may use these words to ask the Prince of Peace to give you his peace,” and follows with a prayer.

Christ Church is now seeking state government approval for its plan to acquire two plots elsewhere in Noida for the establishment of two more congregations.

Vital worship, good teaching, faithful leadership, and responsiveness to opportunities to share the faith appear to be vital ingredients in the flourishing of Christ Church.  It is a congregation where mission vision is taken for granted as a normal part of discipleship and church life.

Text of the closing “Prayer for Peace” in the Christmas tract:

Everlasting Father, who made me and all things, have mercy on me.  In my selfishness I have sinned.  I have displeased you and alienated myself from you.  So I have no peace with you, with others or even in my own heart.  But you have made peace with me by sending your Son Jesus to die in my place.  Mighty God, forgive my sins.  Bring me into your kingdom.  Rule as the One King in my heart and life.  Fill me with your gift of peace.  I pray through your Son Jesus, the Messiah, who died for me and rose again.  Amen.


[PS1]I think it will be good not to mention this

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Responses

  1. The write up is comprehensive. It would have been more complete if its aggressive Outreach programmes found some mention in the article.


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