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Travel: St Mary’s Church, Fort George, Madras (now Chennai)

October 11, 2015 1 comment

This is the first English Church built in India. It is the oldest English Church east of Suez.

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Clive of India was married in the church, as was Elihu Yale, an early founder of Yale University.

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The barracks were built in 1687 but St Mary’s was begun in 1678. It was consecrated (controversially) by Richard Portman in October 1680. The organ was installed in 1687. The spire was added in 1710.

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The walls are 4ft thick, it was built to withstand siege and cyclone and had a blast-proof roof of solid masonry. The brickwork is 2ft thick.

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The building could accommodate 500 people. The distinctive black granite baptismal font dates from 1680.

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My journal entry (October 2014):

St Mary’s – the oldest English church east of the Suez. So many similarities with St Andrew’s cathedral in Singapore, just not as big. So many brass memorial plaques to those who died, often of sickness and disease, many very young. We strolled in the heat of the beautiful sunlit church garden. A peaceful place. Butterflies. Odd how a mercantile and mercenary Raj took the Church with it as part and parcel of Empire. It was obvious you would think, wasn’t it? Well, as the years have unfolded, no – it was a bad idea!  Felt a little strange that Grandad would have known this church. Presumably as a bandsman, he may even have set foot inside. At the back of the building, I saw an old fading photo of George Town at the time (1905) he would have been there, so very different to today’s Chennai’.

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The great Lutheran Pietist missionary, exemplar and intermediary, Christian Friedrich Schwartz (born 1726) arrived in India in 1750. He is remembered in India fondly and in the stirring epitaph at the base of the large white marble sculpture in St Mary’s (by John Bacon Jr, 1807).

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Schwartz was truly the first Protestant missionary to India, not William Carey as often supposed. Carey arrived in India two years after Schwartz’s death at Tanjore in 1798. Schwartz died a rich man but he left all his wealth to the SPCK for its work in India.

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Christian Book Trade; Facing four incontrovertible facts

March 11, 2011 19 comments

We’ve had it much our own way for years. This fine trade of ours is full of great people called to the ministry of Christian literature. The 80’s and the 90’s were the heyday and we were able to build on the legacy of some wonderful pioneers of bookselling. I was honoured to know a number of them and my life is richer as a result. As a trade we now face a problem of demography as many colleagues face retirement, making it ever harder to pass the baton on in the light of these wider challenges.

During the late 90’s and early noughties, many of us worked hard to move ahead and build a better trade. Many might say it didn’t work and that it was predicated on a wrong premise. I don’t know but I do know that generally speaking the motives were right. The execution may have been sometimes clumsy but, in my opinion, many good but tired shops were given a new lease of life.

We face an uncertain future as a niche trade, both booksellers and publishers alike. Delivery channels are changing fast but spiritual content and Godly truth remains. People still deserve to hear the Word. How do we carry out our God-given calling in the context of these new realities?

Life will most certainly not return to how it was. We have to move on and change – fast.

It seems to me that there are four incontrovertible facts that we must openly recognise and begin to accept;

  1. The UK has become increasingly secularised and less open to Christian forms of spirituality
  2. Delivery methods and channels – but not content – are changing almost on a daily basis
  3. Consumers, and especially younger people, are not buying as many physical books as in the past
  4. The Christian book trade is undergoing a serious and prolonged period of retrenchment

The mission and calling of distributing the word of God in various formats continues. We urgently need to develop positive conversations to determine how best to respond. By way of encouragement, I fully recognise that there are a good number of shops around the country doing a superb job and working against the odds. May God bless each one. As I’ve written elsewhere, we must provide encouragement and help to each other and eschew condemnation and recrimination wherever possible.

When William Carey faced a complete wipe-out of years of translation work in India following a catastrophic warehouse fire, he wrote;

‘In one short evening the labours of years are consumed. How unsearchable are the ways of God. I had lately brought some things to the utmost perfection of which they seemed capable, and contemplated the missionary establishment with perhaps too much self-congratulation. The Lord has laid me low, that I may look more simply to him’.

Like Carey, perhaps I too have been guilty of ‘self-congratulation’.

Perhaps for all of us this really is the time to ‘look more simply to Him’?

We have a high calling; I don’t believe it has yet been rescinded.

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