Mar Thoma Church in the United Kingdom and Europe
Mar Thoma diaspora communities are present today outside the boundaries of Kerala in various towns and cities of India, United States of America, Canada, Europe, Australia, New Zealand, Malaysia, Singapore, Middle East, and, more recently, South Africa.
The Mar Thoma Christians as a regular worshipping community in the UK can trace their history so far into five specific periods: 1st period from 1957 to 1978, a second period from 1978 to 1996, a third period from 1996 to our Golden Jubilee in 2007, a fourth from 2007 to 2017 to the Diamond Jubilee and a fifth period from 2018 and the formation of an independent MTC Zone in the UK and Europe
The First Period: 1957 to 1978
One can trace occasional worship being conducted according to Mar Thoma rites by visiting clergy and bishops from 1930 onwards. The only relevant record is of service conducted by Most Revd Dr. Juhanon Mar Thoma during his visit this country on his way to the first World Council of Churches meeting in Amsterdam in 1948. There were only two or three families in London at that time and due to their small number the Mar Thoma Christians could not form a worshipping community until 1957
But it was on 29th September 1957 with Rev. V. V. Alexander that a regular service according to Mar Thoma rites was started at the chapel of the Indian YMCA at Fitzroy Square, London, and it continued there for 21 years.
In 1966-1967, we were fortunate in having had the pastoral care of Revd P.T. Joseph, our Late Metropolitan Most Rev Dr Joseph Mar Thoma, when he was a student of the Oxford University.
We also fondly remember the blessing our community received for a whole year, 1975-76, from late Rt. Revd Easow Mar Timotheos. Many of the Mar Thoma Christians who came from Singapore and East Africa felt need for a separate Mar Thoma identity. This was particularly intense when Bishop Easow Mar Timotheos arrived for his studies in Canterbury. This endearing bishop conducted services for us on a regular basis when he was studying at St. Augustine’s college at Canterbury.
The community took a momentous decision in April 1976 at a general body meeting chaired by Easow Mar Timotheos Thirumeni, that they should work towards becoming an official parish of the Mar Thoma Church. He laid the foundations for their spiritual growth through his simple lifestyle, total involvement and love for the community. We celebrated our first twenty-one years in England on 30th July1978 with the Most Revd Dr. Alexander Mar Thoma Metropolitan; at that time it was an ecumenical community of 150 families from all Christian denominations of India.
The Second Period: 1978 to 1996
During the second period starting from 1978 we became an official parish of the Mar Thoma Church. On 1st April 1978 through and official ‘Episcopal letter- Kalpana of the diocesan bishop, Mar Chrysostom, we became a congregation and then a parish in October that year. Our first vicar was Rev. Philip Varghese and by the grace of God Revd V. V. Alexander remained as our emeritus Vicar until his death in 2010. As membership and attendance grew the parish moved to St. Mary Newington Parish Church, in April 1979. Then for the next ten years we conducted our worship services at Newington Church of England parish church where Revd Dominic Walker was the vicar who later became the bishop of Reading and now retired after being the Diocesan bishop of Monmouth. We owe an immense debt of gratitude Bishop Dominic Walker and Bishop Mervyn Stockwood for allowing us to use Church for ten years free of any cost to the membership. It was a generous gift and helped our growth.
We celebrated the Silver Jubilee of the Mar Thoma Community in the UK in September 1982 in the presence of Archbishop of Canterbury Lord Runcie, Rt. Revd Dr Thomas Mar Athanasius Suffragan Metropolitan and fourteen other Anglican and other bishops, and a host of other dignitaries. We fondly remember the presence Bishop Leslie Brown, Bishop Stephen Neill and Bishop Leslie Newbigin at our silver Jubilee function, who had such intimate knowledge of our church while they served in India during the colonial times. It was indeed a very blessed occasion, which gave us substantial confidence in growing as a vibrant community and was indeed an initiation ceremony for the growth of our community in this country.
The very first Mar Thoma family conference started as a youth conference in 1983 under the leadership of Revd Dr. Abraham Philip. This eventually became the ‘Family Conference.’ We have seen these conferences grow from 40 participants to well over 500. Some gifted young people gave very good leadership for the spiritual enlightenment and revival of our community.
We purchased 22 Altmore Avenue in 1987 and established it as the first permanent Mar Thoma Centre for Europe. In May 1989 the parish moved to its present location at St. Katharine Cree Church in the city of London. In 1993 we acquired St. Paul’s Hall, Hounslow, to cater for the growth of the parish. We need to thank God for the leadership of both clergy and laity for making it possible. The Rt. Revd Dr. John Fenwick of the Free Church of England was then working as the ecumenical secretary to the Archbishop of Canterbury and he was very helpful in acquiring the facilities of the St. Katharine Cree church; this was another significant milestone in the growth of our community in this country.
The Third Period: 1996 to 2007
On 1st April 1996 saw the establishment of two independent parishes for providing the much needed pastoral care for the growing community in London and other parts of the United Kingdom: St. Johns parish at Hounslow and St. James Parish in the City. The whole Mar Thoma community cherished and congratulated the members of St. James Parish for their vision and courage in purchasing a new Mar Thoma Centre, a five-acre site south of the city of London in December 2005. By the grace of God, a number of lay leaders emerged during this third period to provide vision and leadership. It is worth mentioning that many of our youths continue to give leadership for the annual family conferences. The developments of parish choirs and parish-based mission activities are significant events during this period.
One of the very special ministries of Mar Thoma Church was the establishment of the Outreach ministry, providing pastoral care and support to Mar Thoma Christians and other Indian Christians in various cities and towns of the United Kingdom. God had prepared the early Mar Thoma settlers in this country to welcome and give a helping hand to the new Mar Thoma families who arrived for settlement in this country. As part of the outreach Holy Communion Services were conducted on a Saturday before the 5th Sunday in various towns and cities. Prayer groups were also established in various parts of the country. In 2003 St. Johns parish was able to establish regular services at Bristol, Liverpool, and Manchester and occasional services in other cities and town with the help of an additional clergy. The Contribution made by Revd K. V. Cherian was enormous in establishing these congregations outside London. In 2006 a new parish (St. Peter’s) was established in East Area of London and another in Bristol. The Episcopal Synod has decided to acknowledge the prayer groups at Liverpool (Carmel MTC), Manchester (Tabore MTC), and Midlands (Hermon MTC) as independent parishes from 1st May 2007. St. James parish, in addition to their local prayer groups, has extended their prayer groups to Bury St. Edmunds, Ipswich, Kent, Eastbourne, Harlow and Basildon. Thus both parishes are continuously involved in organising prayer groups and occasional worship services in other towns (Portsmouth, Guildford, Ashford, Reading, Peterborough,) and cities in the United Kingdom to cater for the spiritual needs of our wide spread communities and new immigrants. We also have congregations now in Belfast, Edinburgh.
Over these years our community grew and established in this country. A few of our members also give active leadership in their local Church of England and Methodist parishes. This is helping us to develop a very active ecumenical collaboration with other churches. Therefore, we as a community are very proud of our identity and heritage; this identity gives us the courage and stability to integrate with other communities in this country.
We celebrated our Golden Jubilee in April 2007 In the presence of the Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr. Rowan Williams, Chrysostom Valiya Metropolitan, Joseph Mar Thoma Metropolitan, Bishop Mar Coorilos, and Bishop Dominic Walker, Bishop John Fenwick and many other church and civic dignitaries. This was indeed a clear authentic expression of our thanksgiving to God for our presence in this country; this was another milestone of the growth our community
The Fourth Period: 2007 to 2017
Our membership has grown from 150 at the time of Silver Jubilee to 800 at the time of the Golden Jubilee. At the time of the Diamond Jubilee the membership is over 7,000. We also have very vibrant and committed youth groups, prayer groups, chain prayer programmes, senior citizens groups, voluntary evangelical association, women’s association, young couple’s fellowship and other organisations. Sunday school is an integral part of the community and is the future church. Sunday school is held regularly every Sunday during the services in every parish.
By the grace of God on 14th April 2008 we became a full bona fide member of the Churches Together in England (CTE) and Churches Together in Britain and Ireland(CTBI), before that we were just another immigrant church. As a member of the national council of Churches, we have rights, privileges and at the same time additional responsibilities. We are no more an immigrant church and we are a ‘Gazetted National Church.’
We do not think beyond our parish boundaries and this realisation prompted the Rt. Revd Dr. Geevarghese Mar Theodosius, Diocesan Episcopa, to set up a Council of Mar Thoma Parishes in Europe (COMPE) in August 2009.
The history and the development of COMPE is a new chapter for the Mar Thoma Community in Europe and it is laying the foundation for the formation of a European Zone or Diocese in the near future.
There has been further growth of the Mar Thoma community in Europe after the Golden Jubilee. It is during this 4th Period we established parishes in North London, Peterborough, Dublin, and Kent. Both the Silver Jubilee and the Golden Jubilee helped us to grow and establish ourselves in a very major way. Therefore, over the last fifty years our community grew and established in this country. Our members continue to contribute in the field of education, medical and healthcare, information technology, business, law and order, accountancy, social service, civic duties, politics and community relations. We are very proud of our children, they are God-fearing, talented and making their own specific contributions. Many of our members also give active leadership in their local Church of England and Methodist parishes. This is helping us to develop a very active ecumenical collaboration with other churches and participating in interfaith dialogue. Therefore, we as a community are very proud of our identity and heritage; this identity gives us the courage and stability to integrate with other communities in this country. This is a model for our further integration in the UK. Bishop of Willesden, Rt. Revd Peter Broadbent, has given an official Church of England registered parish number within the Diocese of London (240/2A) for the Sinai MTC, which is a very significant appreciation of our integration with them.
Another significant event for the Mar Thoma Church in UK during the fourth period was the purchase of a freehold property in Bristol for the St. Thomas MTC, Bristol and its consecration in April 2017 by Rt. Revd Dr. Isaac Mar Philoxenos Episcopa. 2017 brought to us additional blessings: Our Metropolitan laid the foundation stone for building worshipping facilities for St. James MTC at Eltham.
Diamond Jubilee Celebration: God made it possible for our community to come together to celebrate the Diamond Jubilee at the 35th Family Conference at Yarnfield, Staffordshire from 25th to 27th August. We had nearly 500 members – infants, children, adults and senior citizens – for the valedictory functions. Our Metropolitan, Most Revd Dr. Joseph Mar Thoma, Diocesan Bishop, Dr. Isaac Mar Philoxenos, Bishop Dominic Walker, Bishop John Fenwick, Bishop Geoff Annas, Canon Mounstephen, Mayor Cllr. Jim Davies, and Revd Dr. Prakash K. George, Very Rev V. T. John and all our other achens and many others blessed us with their messages and presence. It was indeed an amazing experience of thanksgiving and it was also a moment for dedication before our God of unconditional love that we all will strive together for bringing the values of the Kingdom of God in our daily living. We express our thanks sincerely to many people who worked day and night for the success of the Diamond jubilee from August 2016. The Diamond Jubilee Committee, the Family Conference Committee and members of various sub-committees worked together in achieving our objectives.
The Diamond Jubilee souvenir provided an opportunity to publish the contributions of all our members in the UK and Europe through the local parish histories published in the souvenir. Our loyalties are often limited to local parishes, congregations, and prayer groups. However, this time COMPE has demonstrated the importance of organising various functions together. According to Bishop Tom Wright, “Jubilee is a once in a life time exodus moment that everyone could experience.” It is when God’s time and human time meet in a scared place for a scared purpose of creating heavenly fellowship. It is a time to liberate ourselves of our ego and live for others and see goodness in other people.
The Fifth Period: 2018 onwards
At the beginning of this fifth period we have the following eleven Parishes: St. James MTC, central London; St. John’s MTC, Hounslow; St. Thomas MTC Bristol; Tabor MTC, Manchester; Carmel MTC, Liverpool; Hermon MTC, Birmingham; St. Peters MTC, East London; Sinai MTC, North London; All Saints MTC, Peterborough; Nazareth MTC, Dublin; Canterbury MTC, Kent. We also have Congregations in Belfast, Edinburgh, Cardiff, Switzerland and Germany. We have also have prayer groups and occasional services in other town and cities in Europe. We have an approximate membership of 7,000.
At the end of 2017 and the beginning 2018 two amazing things have happened to the Mar Thoma Community by the grace of God. Firstly, the Charity Commission of England and Wales has allowed ‘The Council of the Mar Thoma Parishes in Europe (COMPE)’to be a registered charity. Secondly, the Sabha Council and the Episcopal Synod have decided to give us an independent Zonal status from January 2018. The Episcopal Synod also approved ‘The Council of the Mar Thoma Parishes in Europe (COMPE)’ as a unique instrument of the Mar Thoma Church, instituted for transacting effective administrative coordination of all parishes and Congregations within the newly formed UK and Europe Zone. Therefore, we have much to be thankful for. God is worthy of our ultimate gratitude in all things. Therefore, we hope to follow St. Paul’s advice, "Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice! Let your gentle spirit be known to all men. The Lord is near. Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God" (Philippians 4:4-6). The biggest even in this 5th period was the inauguration of the Zone.
Zonal Inauguration: The Mar Thoma community came together for the inauguration of the Zone at Coton Green Church, Tamworth, and Staffordshire, B79 9AA on 9th June 2018. It was a historic moment for the Mar Thoma Community in its 61 years of journey in the UK and Europe. The Mar Thoma Metropolitan, Most Revd Dr. Joseph Mar Thoma officially inaugurated the UK & Europe Mar Thoma Zone. Around 1000 Marthomites from all parishes of the UK and Europe gathered to witness this auspicious occasion.
The event was graced by our Metropolitan, The Most Rev. Dr. Joseph Mar Thoma, and presided by Diocesan Bishop Rt. Rev. Dr. Isaac Mar Philoxenos Episcopa. Various dignitaries from Sister Christian denominations offered their felicitations. Among them were Rt. Revd Dr. Michael Ipgrave (Bishop of Lichfield representing Archbishop of Canterbury), Bishop John Fenwick of The Free Church of England, Bishop David Hicks (Chancellor of the Reformed Episcopal Seminary in Philadelphia). Mrs. Christine Elliot (Director of International Programmes CTBI), Mr. Sunando Chakraborty (Consul and Head of Chancery at Consulate General of India, Birmingham).
During the day of the inauguration of the Zone the 88th birthday and Diamond Jubilee of the priestly ordination of the Mar Thoma Metropolitan, Episcopal Silver Jubilee of Diocesan Bishop, Rt. Rev. Dr. Isaac Mar Philoxenos Episcopa and Centenary celebration of Sannadha Suvishesha Sanghom were celebrated. There was a subsequent celebration in the Republic of Ireland for felicitating our Metropolitan on his 88th birthday and the Diamond Jubilee of the priestly ordination of the Metropolitan Thirumeni.
We realise that it is only a beginning and we need to work together and pray together for further expansion and development. Churchill after the battle of El Alamein said: “Now this is not the end. It is not even the beginning of the end. But it is, perhaps, the end of the beginning.” In 1889, after the Royal Court judgement, our forefathers lost everything and built our world-wide Church with a total dependence on the forgiveness, mercy, regeneration, revival, commitment, and the grace of God. We are sent here for God’s purposes and we should be mindful to use our God-given resources to develop this region and should not be dissipated and misdirected for other causes or issues. We are needed here and should be conscious of this important fact and nobody else can do the job God has entrusted us to do and we should do it as a united Mar Thoma community in the UK and Europe. Metropolitan Thirumeni and Philoxenos Thirumeni reminded us of our responsibilities in conducting God’s mission in this region.
The Mar Thoma Community in the UK and Europe experienced great joy and excitement in coming together for the Zonal Inauguration of the Mar Thoma Church. It was a most enjoyable once in a life time event. We salute our pioneers (both men and women) who built the Mar Thoma parishes and congregations in this Zone, and we welcome the next generation of young leaders and thank God for their vibrant contributions, dreams and vision. It was these young leaders who were mostly responsible for the most amazing inaugural function of the Zone. There was an amazing fresh enthusiasm and confidence in the air at the inaugural service of the Zone. It was indeed a day of dedication for building the community for the glory of God. Both the Metropolitan Thirumeni and our Zonal Episcopa reminded us why we are sent here and not just arrived aimlessly; it is indeed an answer to a memorable and prophetic prayer from Abraham Mar Thoma Metropolitan, as indicated earlier, of ‘scatter our people’ for God’s mission. Therefore, every member of the Mar Thoma Church is sent out to this part of the world as a missionary to live and spread the ‘Good News’. This is indeed our mission statement and it is the oath that we took on 9th June, 2018 at the Coton Green Church to build a united community for the glory of God. It is our responsibility to tell this story to our future generations. This was an event which we and the next generation can gratefully remember and be proud of over the years to come. We also want to thank each and every participant. It was not a triumphant ceremony, but a humble thanksgiving event for God’s amazing and abundant grace.
In February 2019 Rt Revd Dr. Isaac Mar Philoxenos Episcopa consecrated the All Saints Mar Thoma Church in Peterborough and Inaugurated the Hull and Lincolnshire Mar Thoma Congregation. In 2019 Tabore Mar Thoma Church was able to procure a freehold church which was consecrated in October 2019 by the our Metropolitan and Rt Revd Dr Isaac Mar Philoxenos Episcopa.