BENGALURU: On the busy streets of Avenue Road, stands a living witness to the missionary work of Rev Benjamin Holt Rice. The Rice Memorial Church, built in 1917, will celebrate its centenary next week.
J M Richard, member of the church says, “There was no Kannada church in the pete area in the 18th century. In 1834, Rev William Campbell built a Canarese (Kannada) Chapel on Avenue Road. In 1849, the building was demolished to construct a bigger chapel. The new chapel was built in 1851. On weekdays, there were English vernacular classes organised. A small house was also constructed next to the chapel for the teachers to stay.”
According to the book, by the church to mark its cenetary, this chapel also served as a school and venue for religious discussions with the locals.
In 1835, Rev Campbell left for England, leaving the Canarese Chapel in the hands of the native Canarese converts and Rev Colin Campbell.
Rev Benjamin Holt Rice
Benjamin Rice was born on May 28, 1814 to Simon Peter Rice, a wholesale woollen draper’s businessman. Benjamin was studious and had great interest in scriptures, religious magazines and poetry. He was appointed as a missionary to South India by the London Missionary Society (a missionary society in England by evangelical Anglicans and several nonconformists). In 1836, he set sail to India along with his wife. They boarded the vessel Mary Ann and sailed for 120 days to reach India.
Rev MM George, Chairman of Pastorate Committee and Pastor-in- charge, says, “Rev Benjamin started learning Kannada while he was sailing. Within six months of his stay in Bengaluru, he learned Kannada and a few months later, he started preaching in Kannada.” The book further states that since then, he preached and taught in the Canarese language, till his last breath in 1887.
The opening of the new chapel in 1851 was reported by Rev Collin Campbell, Rev Benjamin Rice and Rev Sewell. It was published in the Missionary magazine (a magazine by London Missionary) and Chronicle of April 1852 (a publication in Bengaluru), along with a sketch of the chapel. The chapel stood as an impressive European hall in the midst of native mud houses. There was a verandah outside, where the natives were addressed during the week days, and a vestry was also built.
The opening services of this new chapel was delivered by Rev Benjamin Rice and Rev Colin Campbell.
Rev Benjamin Rice gave his principal attention to public preaching. His usual practice was to preach in the Petah (or Pete) or in the neighbouring villages two or three times in the week. His pulpit ministrations on the Sabbath also were largely adapted to a non-Christian audience. A considerable number of Hindu passers-by were attracted to the singing and used to enter the church.
In 1840, he was appointed as the member of the Committee for the Revision of the Canarese Bible, which took 19 years to complete. It was agreed that instead of a revision of the existing version, a translation from the original languages was desirable and various principles of translation and orthography, and so on, were agreed upon by the committee. Finally, in 1849, after several meetings in Mysuru and Ooty, the New Testament was completed and a few further corrections of the New Testament was done at a session held in Ooty in 1851.
Rev Benjamin Rice, during his life time, has translated and composed many Canarese hymns which are still being used today in Kannada churches.
In 1879, the congregation of the Canarese Chapel recognised his service and presented him a gold watch. Also, the Youth Fellowship of the Chapel presented him a gold pen.
As a member of the local Famine Committee, Benjamin also played a vital role during the Great Famine of 1876-78.
Rice Memorial Church
After the death of Benjamin Holt Rice, the service in the chapel continued.
In 1907, the Canarese Chapel was deemed as structurally unsafe and was vacated by the municipal authorities. In 1912, the building plan for a new church was prepared but the funding got delayed. Finally, the foundation for the new church was laid in the same year by the daughter of Benjamin Holt Rice, E P Rice, and Dr Horton.
According to the book, shortly after the laying of foundation stone, the Bangalore Petah Municipality wanted to widen the Petah (now Avenue Road) and offered an alternative site for the church. It was rejected by E P Rice and after persistent negotiations for over two years, helped acquire the adjoining site, giving space for a larger church building.
The structure was built with a sum of `3,500, contributed by the native Indians.
The church finally was completed with the engineering assistance of Harold Douglas Rice, grandson of Rev Benjamin Rice. It was named after Rev Benjamin Holt Rice, who has served in the chapel for 50 years from 1837 to 1887, hence the name Rice Memorial Church.
The church was formally opened by Eliza Blake, daughter of Rev Benjamin Rice, on January 27, 1917. A silver key was presented to Eliza Blake on that occasion. The inaugural function went on for three days till January 29, 1917 and the first Holy Communion was held on February 4, 1917.
Heritage conservationists have been asking for the inclusion of the Rice Memorial Church into the important landmarks on the heritage list. It is said that there have been proposals to widen the Avenue Road which may lead to the damage or loss of this monument.
The conservationists have added the church as a part of the proposal ‘Palace-to-Palace’ Heritage Corridor or Golden Corridor, linking Tipu Sultan’s Summer Palace to the Bangalore Palace, passing through K R Road, Avenue Road and Palace Road. But the proposal has not yet been accepted by the Government of Karnataka.
Architect Naresh Narasimhan says, “It is part of Bengaluru’s history. It is a historical building and probably the second oldest church in the city. Hence, it should be preserved.”
At present, the church is managed by Karnataka Central Diocese, Church of South India.
For the coming centenary, Retd Bishop Rev Balmi from Dharwad and Bishop B K Nayak from Odisha, Rev Dr Rathnakar Sadananda, Rev M M George and Rev S Sujeeth Kumar will be present.