BENGALURU: Whitefield, now associated with IT and swanky apartments, has a heritage zone that was once called “a retirees paradise”. The heritage zone consists of several century-old houses and churches on the Inner Circle Road. One such site is Whitefield Memorial Church also called the CSI (Church of South India) Memorial Church.
Grand uncle of Deepa Peck’s husband, one of the oldest residents of Whitefield, was a pastor in the church for several years. Deepa says that the church is the symbol of Whitefield. “I really appreciate how the congregation has grown and the church has been left just the way it is. Over the years, people irrespective of their denominations, have come forward and protected the church whenever any issue arose such as widening of the road”.
Built in 1886, the church is one of the oldest in the city and drew a largely Anglo-Indian parishioners. In 1884, the Maharaja of Mysore authorised the grant of lands to the Eurasian and Anglo Indian Association (E& AI). This grant of land was a part of the village site. For the benefit of the settlers, the land scheme proposed the need for a place for Christian worship shortly after the Whitefield settlement was founded in 1882.
Funds were raised at that time in order to eternalise the memory of the late Rev Dr Henry Bower who was a prominent member of the Anglo- Indian community. One Mr Gage came forward to donate a generous amount towards the construction of this memorial church. One would wonder as to why the church wasn’t named after Dr Bower or Mr Gage. It was perhaps because the church wasn’t supposed to be attached to any particular religious section.
The plan for the construction, the control and preparation were undertaken by Alex Barron, a lithographer from Chennai.
According to the website of the Memorial Church, services were held by all denominations when practicable. The Lord Bishop of Madras deputed the C. of E. Chaplain of St. John’s Church, Bangalore, to visit Whitefield and hold services at least twice in every three months.
A church committee was formed by the members of all Protestant bodies, consisting of an equal number of members of the Church of England and Dissenters. Things ran smoothly until a few years later when the members from each denomination had some misunderstandings and started conducting their own services without any discussion with the church committee.
It is said that some members took advantage of these differences. The website states that one night, the organ was removed from the church. It was found the next day by a cowherd near a mango grove. Due to this, the church was locked up. There were legal cases in the law courts at Bengaluru. On September 5, 1899, a meeting of all concerned was held and presided over by the Divisional Commissioner. A
decision was taken to form a Board of Trustees consisting of an equal number of members from both denominations, that is C of E and Dissenters.
In 1928, it was felt that some adjustments in the functioning of the church were required and as an authentic copy of the agreement of September 1899 was not available, a new agreement was made on August 16, 1928. This agreement was in force up to 1941. In 1940, some difference among the trustees arose about the use of the Hardinge Fund that consisted of `5,000 bequeathed by one R C Hardinge in her will for the use of the Church of England section of the Memorial Church.
The Board of Management and the two pastorate committees had decided to use the money for the extension of the building. Three members of the public and all C. of E. members approached the Deputy Commissioner to hold an enquiry into the matter. The decision was made in their favour as it was found that the contemplated action of the Pastorate Committees and the Board of Management would be illegal. Later, it was amicably decided to use the Hardinge Fund to build two vestries and a front porch.
According to the sources, in 1947, when the Church of South India came into existence and took over some of the churches in Bengaluru, the two congregations of the Memorial Church continued to function as two separate sections with their own Pastorate Committees but under the same C.S.I. Presbyter conducted services for both congregations alternately. The Church of England is known as the Anglican Section and the Non-Conformist as the C.S.I. Section. Each section had its own representatives on the Board of Management. But in May 1965, when the C.S.I. Bishop wanted the amalgamation of the two sections and of the Pastorate Committees, the Anglican Section not being agreeable broke away from the control of the CSI Presbyter and functioned as a separate section.
The services were conducted by laymen till November 1966. The Anglican Section then affiliated themselves to the C.M.S. Anglican Church of the Diocese of Travancore and Cochin, Kerala, and in December 1966, they had their own ordained Vicar. But the numbers in the congregation dropped considerably due to many deaths and young people leaving the country. At a general body meeting of the congregation in September 1977, it was decided to close down the Section.
The common properties such as the organ and furniture, the Hardinge Fund and the share of the Whelpdale Fund were handed over to the CSI congregation at Whitefield as a gift anonymously. Hence, from October 1977, it’s only CSI that is using the Memorial Church.
The church has retained its original attributes till date. It is constructed with unbaked bricks without cement structuring. On either side of the church is a vestry. One, which is used as the priest’s office and the other to store articles. Several dedication plaques are present on the walls of the church. A baptismal font and a donation box are present near the vestry on the right.
There are colourful motifs on the flooring tiles that is said to have been brought from Italy or London. A P Thomas, a church committee member recalls, “The church has a capacity to seat 100 worshipers. Today, we have around 500 worshipers every Sunday. The church has constructed free standing steel sheds adjoining the church’s entrance to seat the large congregation.”