Photo Credit: Church Mission Society
[ACNS, by Gavin Drake] The arrival of the Church Mission Society’s Thomas Norton and other missionaries in the southern Indian town of Alleppey, Kerala, 200 years ago is being marked with a major celebration in the state’s Nehru sports stadium in Kottayam. More than 50,000 people are expected to attend the celebration, which will include a presentation from the surviving grandchildren of the original missionaries.
Norton was the first of a number of CMS missionaries who arrived in Alleppey – a town now called Alappuzha, and known as the Venice of the East. He was followed by Bishop Speechly, Henry Baker and Benjamin Bailey. They set about establishing formal education for all, including women; and founded a number of schools and colleges.
The anniversary will be marked with a large procession and gathering of bishops ahead of the celebration in the sports stadium on Saturday (12 November). “Throughout the celebrations organisers have sought to continue the vision of the original missionaries who recognised the importance of education and economic development to secure the future of the region,” a CMS spokesman said. “Therefore, the bicentenary celebrations have incorporated a number of community development and educational programmes, including one project to build new homes to house the homeless, another to provide scholarships to poor students, and others aimed at agriculture, rural areas and church planting.
“A memorial for the Revd Thomas Norton, bicentenary stamp and a book that elaborates the work of missionaries will also be released as part of the celebrations.”
The CMS College in Kerala is the oldest college in India. Earlier this year the President of India, Pranab Mukherjee, visited the college and laid the foundation stone of a new bicentenary block.
“CMS college is a pioneer of modern education in Kerala,” President Mukherjee said. “It has been the source of strong currents of knowledge and critical inquiry that have moulded the scholastic and socio-cultural landscape of Kerala and propelled the State to the forefront of social development.”
The events in Kerala have been organised by the Church of South India, a united church which brings together Congregational, Presbyterian, Reformed, Methodist and Anglican Churches.
“Countless men and women of God have watered and cared for the seed that CMS missionary Thomas Norton planted 200 years ago,” the executive leader of the Church Mission Society, Philip Mounstephen, said. “Today, the continuing presence of the Church in Kerala, and the socio-economic programmes in place, are testament to their vision, faith and tenacity.”