The Story of a Church

This is a brief account of the Whitefield Memorial Church. The history of its beginning from the year 1886 when it went through so many vicissitudes till 1977 makes it an interesting historical record.

It is an authoritative account as the facts have been based on the official documents obtained by the author - The Very Rev. A. H. Peck, who was the oldest resident of Whitefield, who was also the Honorary Presbyter of the Anglican congregation from December 1966 to September, 1977

Shortly after the Whitefield Settlement was founded the need for a public place for Christian worship was keenly felt.

At this time the Madras European and Anglo-Indian Association were raising funds to perpetuate the memory of the late Rev. Dr. Bower an honoured and revered member of the community. The form of the memorial had not been decided on. At thi4 stage one Mr. Gage came forward with the otter of a generous donation towards the cost of building an undenominational church at Whitefield. It was agreed by all concerned that the kind offer of Mr. Gage be accepted and that the funds raised by the Association together with Mr. Gage's donation be utilised to start the building of a church at Whitefield to be called the Memorial Church. Why the building was not named the Bower and Gage Memorial Church is not known. It can only be presumed that as the building was to be an undenominational church the names of those of a particular section should be omitted.

The supervision of building, the preparation of the plan and the ' estimate were undertaken by one Mr. Alex Barron, a Lithographer from Madras.

The construction of the building was started in 1886, on a piece of ground about three-fourths of an acre in extent in the Inner Circle, donated by the Association who had the distribution of the twenty plots in the Inner Circle.

As the construction of the building was in progress it was found that the funds in hand would be inadequate to complete the work. A further appeal was made to the community by the Madras Association and the entire amount was provided.

In the next eight years the care and maintenance of the Church was attended to by the Sub-Committee of the Madras Association at Whitefield. The expenditure being met from the general funds at the disposal of the Committee. The Sub-Committee consisted of members of all denominations including Roman Catholics.

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.

In 1894 the control of the Settlement was handed over by the Madras Association to the Bangalore Association. This Association while providing for the maintenance and management of the other public buildings such as the school, post office, etc., left the Church to be cared for by the Settlers. The members of all Protestant bodies met and formed a Church Committee, consisting of an equal number of members of the Church of England and Dissenters, for the care and custody of the Church. Subscriptions were raised for the maintenance of the Church which together with the offertories at the services were kept as a separate fund. Improvements were made from time to time as funds permitted to the flooring and furniture. Provision was made for holding alternate Church of England and Dissenting Services on Sundays and clergymen of all denominations began to visit the Settlement and hold services more frequently. Things ran smoothly for a short while.

A few years later owing to misunderstanding each denomination, C. of E and Dissenters, conducted their own services without reference to the Church Committee.

The youth of Whitefield taking advantage of the differences between their elders indulged in their mischievous pranks. One night the organ was removed from the Church. It was found the next day by a cowherd in a nearby mango grove.

This unsatisfactory state of affairs resulted in the locking up of the Church and the launching of cases in the Law-Courts at Bangalore. On 5th September, 1899, a meeting of all concerned was held and presided over by the Divisional Commissioner, Bangalore. It was agreed to form a Board of Trustees consisting of an equal number of members from both denominations, i.e. C. of E. and Dissenters, for the care and maintenance of the Church and that the expenses be equally shared by both congregations. The Roman Catholics relinquished their claim to the use of the Memorial Church as they now had a church of their own.

The functioning of the Board of, Trustees went on upto 1928 with minor differences now and again. It was now felt that some adjustments were needed and as an authenticated copy of the agreement of the September 1899 was not available, a new agreement was drawn up and executed on 16th August, 1928. This agreement was in force upto 1941.

In 1940 some difference arose regarding the use of the Hardinge Fund. The Hardinge Fund consisted of Rs. 5000 bequeathed by Mrs. R. C. Hardinge in her will for the use of the Church of England Section of the Memorial Church, Whitefield. The Board of Management and the two Pastorate Committees had come to some arrangement to use this fund for the extension of the Church building with certain conditions, regarding the use of the extension, which were neither Christian like nor legal. Three members of the public, all C. of E. members of whom the author of these notes was one, approached the Deputy Commissioner to stay the action of the Board and to hold an enquiry into the matter. An enquiry was held and it was found that the contemplated action of the Pastorate Committees and the Board of Management would be illegal. After some argument it was amicably decided to use the Hardinge Fund to extend the body of the church and to build two vestries and a front porch, for the use of all without any restrictions. An extract from the Deputy Commissioner's order on this enquiry reads as follows: No. 63 4049 / 39-40 dated 4th June 1940.

From the enquiries I made at Whitefield, all the people do not seem to be in favour of handing over the Church building to any one section.

The agreement in question refers only to the management of the building and as such, it cannot be cancelled. I do not wish to have nor did I claim to have jurisdiction over matters ecclesiastical. But I have and shall continue to have jurisdiction, to prevent breach of the peace if in regard to the use of the building any Christian Section at Whitefield causes danger to the public peace.

Please note that the building was constructed by different sections of Christians and Government of Mysore also have contributed towards its cost."

On 20th August 1941, a new agreement was drawn up and approved of by the Deputy Commissioner.

After the retrocession of the Settlement by the Mysore Government in 1935 while improvements were being made to the Silver Jubilee Park, a compound wall and two out offices were built for the Church by the Government.

In 1947 when the Church of South India came into existence and took over some of the Churches in Bangalore, the two congregations of the Memorial Church, Whitefield, continued to function as two separate sections with their own Pastorate Committees but under the one and same C.S.I. Presbyter who conducted services for both congregations alternately and presided over their Pastorate Committee Meetings. The Church of England being known as the Anglican Section and The Non-Conformist as the C.S.I. Section. Each Section having its own representatives on the Board of Management and continuing under the same agreement of August 1941. This most peculiar state of affairs continued upto 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 C.S.I. Presbyter and functioned as a separate section on their own with all the rights of the original C. of E. Section, as per agreement of 20th August, 1941.

They carried on as a flock without a shepherd upto November 1966, holding their services regularly every Sunday with laymen conducting the same. In November 1966, the Anglican Section 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.

In September 1977, owing to the numbers in the congregation having dropped considerably it was found that it was not practical to continue the Section. The chief causes of the dwindling down of the numbers was due to the many deaths that had occurred during the last twelve years, all the young people and some of the elders of the congregation had left the country and no new members were joining the congregation as all newcomers to Whitefield from other towns and cities were already members of the C.S.I. or the C.N.I. and naturally joined the C.S.I. congregation. At a General Body meeting of the congregation in September 1977, it was unconditionally resolved to close down the Section with effect from 30th September, 1977.

By another unanimous resolution it was resolved to hand over their share of the common property (i.e. the organ, furniture, etc.), the Hardinge Fund and their share of the Whelpdale Fund, as a gift to the C.S.I. congregation at Whitefield. The C.S.I. was also given the opportunity of selecting any items of the personal property, such as Prayer and Hymn Books, Altar Linen etc. of the Anglican Section they cared to have.

From October 1977, the C.S.I. are the only body that are using the Memorial Church