serving together

India: Methodist Deaconess Ministry India

A brief history of the Methodist Church in India (MCI) (source here. See also Wikipedia article here and another article here)
Methodism first came to India with the arrival of Rev. James Lynch to Madras (now Chennai), at a place called Black Town (Broadway), later known as George Town, in 1817. Lynch conducted the first Methodist Missionary service on 2nd March, 1817 in a stable. The first Methodist church was dedicated in 1819 at Royapettah. A chapel was later built and dedicated on 25th April, 1822 at George Town. This church was rebuilt in 1844 since the earlier structure was collapsing. At this time there were around 100 Methodist members in Chennai, all of them either European or of Eurasian descent.
In 1856, William Butler, a missionary from America, heading the Methodist Episcopal Church came to India and began work at Bareilly. However, it was only in 1870, with the arrival of William Taylor, the famous evangelist, who led revival meetings in India that, Methodism became a national factor. Evangelistic work among the deprived classes led to a large number of converts into the Methodist Church in the rural areas. In 1920 the Methodist Missionary Society was organized to supervise the missionary work in India. In 1930 the Central Conference of southern Asia elected the first national Bishop. Since the Independence of India in 1947 all bishops have been Indian nationals. Missionaries were sent to Borneo in 1956 and to the Fiji islands in 1963.
On 7th January, 1981, the Methodist Church in India (MCI) was established as an “autonomous affiliated”, church in relation with the United Methodist Church. Bishop Dr. Kariappa Samuel was the first elected bishop of the MCI. The church is now independent in its life and organization and has adopted its own constitution and Book of Discipline and Articles of Faith. The MCI understands itself as the body of Christ in and for the world as part of the church universal. Its purpose is to understand the love of God as revealed in Jesus Christ, to bear witness of this love to all people and to make them his disciples. It has hundreds of thousands of members. It is a member of the World Council of Churches, Christian Conference of Asia, the National Council of Churches in India and World Methodist Council. It runs schools, hostels, colleges, vocational training centres, hospitals and health care centres and many community welfare and development programmes in the country.

Social context (source: here)
Christians make up 3.7% of India’s population, and perhaps half that number are Dalits, the low-caste Indians formerly known as the ‘untouchables’. Dalits identified as Christians do not receive privileges granted to other Dalits, such as preferences for certain jobs or school admissions.

Numbers of Deaconesses
The Methodist Church in India has 110 active deaconesses and 50 retired deaconesses. (Source: here)
Padma Grace Sagar is President, Deaconesses’ Conference.

Malatthi Jamesraj is a Deaconess in Pondicherry.

Deaconesses wear saris, as is traditional in India. They are able to marry. There is no ‘mother house’, though some of the deaconesses live in the institutions where they work (eg hostels for children with disabilities). Remuneration as well as recognition seem to be a problem. Many of the women do not receive regular payment.

The women relate to a Bishop who has overall responsibility for the Deaconesses.

Women in the church
Women have played a very significant role in the ministry of the Methodist Church in India. Today they occupy high positions both within and outside the church. They have representation in the decision making body and women can take part in church worship.  There is a strong women’s wing and also a structure for full-time women’s ministry called, “Deaconesses Conference” with full voting rights in the regional conference.  Ordination is open for women since 1956, but not many have opted for this.
Women are also providing leadership as managers and heads of institutions and have contributed a lot in the fields of education, medical care, and social service.

Related article here.

A visit by DIAKONIA World President, July 2014
MCI Deaconesses
This week I have been able to visit with Dn Shaila John Wesley, Executive Secretary, Council of Deaconesses Work, Methodist Church in India (MCI). We met in Bangalore and saw some of the ministries offered by deaconesses, and travelled together to Chennai to meet with Deaconesses there.
Shaila provided me with plenty of reading material, including her report to the MCI General Conference in relation to the Council of Women’s Work, the compilation report from the 12 Deaconesses Conferences of MCI, and the IX All India Deaconesses Assembly in 2010.
The overwhelming impression for me is the faithfulness of the women who serve as Deaconesses. They have placements in schools, hostels, aged care, hospitals and other institutions. As well, some serve as lady evangelists, particularly in rural areas, and provide leadership to Sunday Schools and WSCS programs.
Many of the women do not receive regular payment, and I wonder about how they survive at all. One report said that they had not received pay for more than 10 years. Another said the average payment for deaconesses was as low as Rs 20,000 ($US40) – for a year! Some of the hostels for students from rural areas require fundraising and student sponsorship, and many struggle to survive, and some have ceased to be.
Each regional conference has a small number of deaconesses, with few (or in some cases, nil) new probationers in each conference.
The deaconesses seek opportunities to hold workshops, seminars and training courses for the local women, especially those in rural areas, where they can learn and utilise their learning.
Despite the difficult circumstances in which they exercise ministry, the deaconesses remained to a vision of serving.
‘Women’s Work under the Deaconesses Ministry can be very meaningful and challenging to provide guidance to the society at large and particularly among Christians. Our ministry has great relevance, and need and ministry among children, youth and women has become more important and necessary than before”. (Mrs Anita Singh, Deaconess Secretary, Agra Regional Deaconesses Conference).
Some strategic planning for the future includes:
* systematic ongoing training for the Deaconesses and other Co-workers to equip them with better and modern managerial skills;
* training to equip Deaconesses and Co-workers to use resources which are available within the present structure and settings;
* introducing a system of better accountability and more transparency;
* sharing more information in the Churches and other agencies to create interest in people, and agencies to participate in the Deaconesses Work;
* major renovation of buildings and infra-structure development.
Finally, the confidence and trust in God, despite the troubles and trials they face, weaves through the ministry of the deaconess in the MCI. They speak about their primary call and responsibility to spread the good news of Jesus Chrsist in and through their lives and service.

Bishop Taranath S.

Bishop’s House Baldwin Methodist Educational Center 13 Convent Road, Museum Road Bangalore 560 025 India

Phone: 91 22 2309 4316 Work Fax: 91 22 2307 4137

Further Information to be collected includes (but is not limited to) the following questions.

A brief history (may include links to documents and websites) – how did it all get started? What are the key dates and events? Are there documents that are part of the history (please specify)?

Historical information and dates re formation/recognition of diaconal ministry agents in the denomination/church agency.

What kind of training/formation do diaconal ministry agents receive before formal recognition in their church. Are there expectations of ongoing training, or professional development? If yes, what is expected and how often does it happen?

Are there key people (historical or current) in the organization who have provided significant leadership. Any weblinks to their story, or a short write up?

An overview of main responsibilities for diaconal ministry agents (past and present). Are they located within a church, a particular facility or agency, or community based? Are diaconal ministry agents appointed to individual placements or work together on projects or in institutions?

Are diaconal ministry agents able to preside at sacraments (communion, baptism, weddings etc)?

Is there a length of time for appointments (eg usually less than 5 years, usually between 5 and 10 years, at the discretion of the diaconal ministry agent or at the discretion of the appointing body), appointed to and remain with a particular mother house, etc.

Do diaconal ministry agents organize conferences, seminars, gatherings for professional development, pastoral peer support etc? How often and what is the nature of these events?

Key issues and challenges in the contemporary ministry context

Do the diaconal ministry agents have ‘code of conduct’ or ‘code of ethics’ that inform ethical and behavioral expectations for ministry?

Key documents (historical, vision and mission etc) – links or PDF or Word files


Links to relevant articles, websites etc

Other areas of interest……

(information to Rev Sandy Boyce, President, DIAKONIA World Federation,, to upload to this website)