Before launching into this next part of the 2 lectures I gave at Navin Doman Theological Seminary in Malar, near Ranchi, I just wanted to make a few comments.
Every time I have visited Jharkhand I've had the great pleasure to meet Bishop Nirmal Minz and his wife Parakleeta. Bishop Minz has been a long standing pillar in the Adivasi community. His wife was educated in Germany, and so despite her Parkinsons disease she has translated into Hindi a history that was written by Ferdinand Hahn in 1895 celebrating the fifty years of the Gossner Mission in Chota Nagpur. I look forward to seeing hee important work published along with the amazing photos. Most of the photos I use in my lecture come from that book. I do wish I had spent more time finding out what she has written about the organization of the church. Perhaps there is something more that can be added to what I said in this part of the lecture. Or perhaps there are some points of clarification that need to be made. In this portion of my lecture, but I wish to qualify that more research is needed in this area of church organization structure.
In case you want to read the previous Parts first before this part:
Let me break down this part of the lecture into different categories
1. The Missionary (Mission) and the church
2. civil responsibility
6 The Pnachayat.
7. annual conference
The histories written in old German, that my father recently translated into English, suggest that Christianity was spreading among the Adivasi, primarily through the people themselves. The missionaries had come and presented the Gospel message of Christ (see photo below left preaching at a Mela), but the people themselves spread the message into remote regions. Then the missionaries ensured that seekers would be well taught what being a christian means (again through the Adivasi Christians) before verifying genuine belief and carrying out baptising. Their work of oversight over the church from the beginning had an ultimate goal that the people themselves would govern themselves and be self sufficient.
Ferdinand Hahn was also concerned about the Civil governance of the people in the community at large (not only the Christians). He played an important role of setting up Lohardaga's Town Council and was elected it's first President. The organization of the council was president, secretary, treasurer, like typical German organization. I doubt many towns have such a structure. In the photo above right you can see in the picture that the municiple government was a representation of quite a diverse number of people who lived in Lohardaga in 1888.
he missionary lived on the mission compound. Christians tended to live in their own villages. On the mission compound (which was often given names like Bethsaida, or Ebenezer, or Patrasburg, etc) On the compound there were school buildings and most of the time a church. The only church for believers to attend for quite a distance. If Christians came to stay near or around the mission compound, but these mission sites, were not "settlements" or "colonies" like in so many other missions. In many places around India, converts to Christianity were rejected from their communities, and so the missionary would create for them a new Christian village. This was not the case among the Adivasi, who followed various faiths in addition to their traditional Sarna religion. They all coexisted together with moderate prejudice. (One cannot say it never existed, but it was more rare than common)
From the beginning the missionaries trained catechists to teach the catechism (usually Luther's short catechism). In photo below left, the missionary is teaching the catechists. Then the catechist would go out to the villages and teach those who were seekers. A seeker had to study the catechism for at least six month to a year and a half. The missionary would quiz them on the genuiness of their belief and knowledge of the faith before baptising the people. But when the missionaries counted who was part of the church, they would include the seekers.
From 1871 on the missionary seminary ordained pastors, mostly Adivasi pastors. These pastors in some cases would move to an area where there was a concentration of Christians. In many cases they went to assist the missionary in managing the churches and schools. For those who moved to the villages there was at first a strain between the catechists who were considered spiritual leaders. So it was quickly decided that it would continue to be the catechists work to do evangelism, that is spreading the word and teaching about the faith. The pastors role was to take care of the congregations. If there were up to 12 christians in a village (including women and children) then that was a congregation. Where there were a concentration of Christians a church would be built (like in Chatti).
Pastors were given four years in the Seminary, and then they would do two years in the community, and then they were ordained. Then they were required to meet together in regions once a week, if they can, or at least once a month. In this way the pastors can share with each other, learn from each other how they meet the problems they have faced. Then the Pastors were required that once a year they should take a refresher course of 6-8 weeks. This would be at the time of the Annual Conference when everyone would gather in some place, sometimes Ranchi, sometimes Lohardaga, or different places. When this became so many people that would come and it was difficult to place them, they started having representatives to come, one for each 1,000 members. This did not have to be the Pastor or Catechist, but whoever the people wanted to be their representative from their congregation..
Often the pastors and the missionary had to figure out how to deal with matters of discipline. There was an emphasis that most culture practices were acceptable, unless something is specifically mentioned in the Bible. This included drunkenness, however they had a serious problem with alcoholism. Then the dancing in the circle, or akra, had elements of spirit worship, so they did not allow it as part of worship, but otherwise a cultural practice. They had a little bit of garbar over tattoos, because the Bible says no tattoos, But the people said that this is how we express our position in our community, so after a while it was allowed. Then the Christians started identifying themselves with crosses and other Christian symbols.
But I do want to say something about alcoholism. There is the question of discipline in the church, this was another thing that they struggled with. Alcoholism was one of the bigger things that disturbed discipline, but there was also adultery, and things like that. But they had a policy not to expel anyone from the community. It was a very controversial policy, but they said that the reason that had to be done was for the community. They recognized that the person identifies so strongly with the community that expelling them from the community is like throwing them out of the world.
The commitment of the church was to restore the person. If the person had any leadership role, they would lose that. Or if they came to church and they were drunk. They would be asked to leave. But they would assign two Catechists to that person, to pray with him, to teach him, etc. If any of you have studied about alcoholism, you know that the habit is very strong, and I think this method got lost because the person didn’t change. The alcoholism was stronger than his will to reform. So in the church, and even in America they are finding that this is a problem. And we find that the Twelve-Step Program is very good because it creates a community for those who are struggling with the same problem
The interesting thing is that when they go to the village level, the Panchayat is very important to each village, and in the villages where the Christians were in the majority, or all of the village was Christian, they would give authority also to the Panchayat to select representatives. So the missionary would always have to meet with the Panchayat first, then with the Pastor and the Catechist, and then with any others. It was for this reason that they had the Pastors do more and more of this work in the village. And I told you the story of Suleiman Khalko in Chatti. This was the kind of development they had, and it was because of this that when the missionaries left, they already had a system in place for self-government.
I was also telling the class about the financial support of the church. They placed all the offerings and the special offerings and put them into a fund, and the at would pay for half of the Pastor’s salary. Pastors were paid Rs.15 a year back then. and the Mission paid for the other half. By this they were trying to teach the congregations to raise all the money needed to run their congregation. But they were concerned, because when you have someone in the village who is being paid a salary, and the rest were working on their farms, this creates a difference in status. But if they didn’t do this (pay a salary) the Pastors would not have enough time (from their farm work) to do all the work, because they usually had several congregations.
[the unordained missionary received 40 Rupees a month for himself, Rs.15 for his wife, and Rs. 8 for every child; the ordained missionary Rs.50, wife Rs.20, and child Rs.10, whereupon the former higher value of the rupee came to the aid of the missionaries; FH 1906]
Because the Christians and the non-Christians lived together in the villages, and the missionaries had to make sure that there was peace. They had to respect the system (differences they had), For a brief time they got concerned about the sums not being properly managed. So they centralized the fund. But then the problem was that it was no longer a community based effort. Then the people started asking, where is my money, my gifts, going? But by the time the missionaries saw that this was a mistake, they were forced to leave (the country).
The people were very generous, but they had a problem. The very first believers liked to give to the Church, because formerly, when they were non-Christians, they had to give to the village priests, and for the sacrifices, it was very expensive for them (but they had to give out of fear). So when they became Christians they were very happy to give. They would rather give to the Church than give sacrifices. The priests were constantly saying, oh, you are sick, you have to give a sacrifice, (and also collected a fee for himself). If you have a wedding, you have to give a sacrifice. Also during the harvest they had a tradition of always having to give. Actually, the new believers, not the missionaries, started the harvest celebration in the church. The missionaries were pleased to see this.
The other problem was that when the church had become more established the missionaried wished to teach about tithes, you need to pay a fee for burial, or some other service by the church, then the people objected because they said that the Zamindars are also asking a fee for one thing and another. This is another example of how, if you lose the theological background (godly purpose), which is your thanksgiving offering, you tithe as an offering to the Lord in thanks for all His abundance to us. If you forget that, and it just becomes a fee, that makes it a problem. Some places, such as Takamar became self sufficient early because they had a way of setting aside a portion of rice at evey meal for the Church. After all how exactly do you measure 1/10th of your farm? What is one tenth of a goat or a cow?
Let me not forget some unsung heroes of the Adivasi church. Bible women. The missionary wives noted that the true leaders of the home and clan were women. They would teacc, those who were intereste, bible stories. Eventialy through Zinana mission they recieved some literature. So they taught the women how to read. The women could then support themselves by selling the tracts for one anna. Some of the German missionaries were not very supportive of this ministry, but it was a way to educate the community about the faith. It was a way to engage the women in church leadership.
Finally, there was an annual conference from 1874 on. As the numbers grew it became unrealostic for all believers to join in the gathering. So 2 representative for every 1000 believers were locally elected to represent the various congregations scattered in hundreds of villages. Minutes were taken in old German by a missionary of these meetings. If we could read them we would learn so much more about church organization and life. (much is available in Berlin archived, however in old German handwriting)
It is because of this organization that the church was able to gain autonomy in 1919. As the leaders negotiated with the British government to remain Gossner Lutherans and not Anglican, the people were part of the process. Lines of communication and the ability to vote on such matters had been put in place. Different regions may have been organised slightly different based on local cilture, but all the people had input on these developments, so the British could not deny them Autonomy on July 10, 1919.
These musings include the journey of my writing on the history of my great great grandparents and the travels for research to India, Germany and other places of interest.