The Church of South India (commonly known as CSI) is the successor of the Church of England in India. It came into being in 1947 as a union of Anglican and Protestant churches in South India. With a membership of over 3.8 million, it is India’s second largest Christian church after the Roman Catholic Church in India. CSI is one of four united churches in theAnglican Communion.
The inspiration for the Church of South India was born from ecumenism and inspired by the words of Jesus Christ as recorded in the Gospel of John, 17.21
“That they all may be one; as thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee, that they also may be one in us: that the world may believe that thou hast sent me.”
That they all may be one is also the motto of the Church of South India.
The CSI was inaugurated on 27 September 1947 at St. George’s Cathedral Chennai, only a month after India achieved its independence from the United Kingdom. It was formed from the union of the South India United Church (itself a union of churches from the Congregational, Presbyterian and Reformed traditions) and the southern provinces of the AnglicanChurch of India, Pakistan, Burma and Ceylon and the Methodist Church of South India. In the 1990s, a small number ofBaptist and Pentecostal churches also joined the union.
The presiding bishop of the inaugural function was the Rt Revd C. K. Jacob of the Anglican Diocese of Travancore and Cochin. A vast congregation gathered in the cathedral at Madras from all over the world. The following historical declaration made by Bishop Jacob at the inaugural.
“Dearly beloved brethren, in obedience to the Lord Jesus Christ the head of the church, who on the night of his passion prayed that his disciples might be one, and by authority of the governing bodies of the uniting churches whose resolutions have been read in your hearing and laid in your prayer before Almighty God; I do hereby declare that these three churches, namely – the Madras, Madura, Malabar, Jaffna, Kannada, Telugu, Travancore Church councils of the South India United Church; the Methodist Church of South India, Trichinopoly, Hyderabad and Mysore districts; the Madras, Travancore and Cochin, Tinnevelly and Dornakal dioceses of the Churches of India, Burma and Ceylon; are become one Church of South India, and these bishops, presbyters, deacons and probationers who have assented to the basis of union and accepted the constitution of the Church of South India, whose names are laid upon this holy table, are bishops, presbyters and deacons of this church. In the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit, Amen.”
Discussions about the merging of South India’s Protestant denominations began at a 1919 conference at Tranquebar (today known as Tharangambadi). This famous conference on church union is known as Tranquebar 1919. One of the main leaders of this conference and later negotiations was Bishop V. S. Azariah of the Dornakal diocese, who was the first Indian bishop of the Anglican Church. The Church of South India is considered the result of twenty-eight years of prayers and discussions. By theindependence of India in 1947, the union was achieved and the CSI officially established.
The inauguration of the Church of South India opened a new chapter in the history of the churches. This was the first time in history such a union was realised between episcopal and non-episcopal churches. By this union four traditions came together, i.e., Anglican (Episcopal), Congregational, Presbyterian, and Methodist.
One of the three churches to come into the Church of South India was the South India United Church (S.I.U.C.). S.I.U.C. was formed in 1908. This was a union between Congregationalists and Presbyterians. The Basal Mission, district of Malabar also joined the S.I.U.C. in 1919.
When C.S.I. was inaugurated there were fourteen dioceses. Today the church has twenty-two dioceses and more than 2 million members. There are eight dioceses in Tamil Nadu, six in Andhra Pradesh, four in Kerala, three in Karnataka, and one in Sri Lanka.
The church runs 2000 schools, 130 colleges and 104 hospitals in South India. In the 1960s the church became conscious of its social responsibility and started organising rural development projects. There are 50 such projects all over India, 50 training centres for young people and 500 residential hostels for a total of 35,000 children.
The School for Small Farmers is a specific agency catering to the needs of the farming communities in their Dalit and Adivasi congregations.
The CSI is a member of the Anglican Communion and its bishops participate in the Lambeth Conferences and has representation on the Anglican Consultative Council. It is also a member in the World Council of Churches, World Alliance of Reformed Churches, and the National Council of Churches in India. The CSI is in full communion with theMalankara Mar Thoma Syrian Church of India and the Church of North India (CNI).
The CSI, CNI, and Mar Thoma Church jointly formed the Communion of Churches in India (CCI) in 1978 for mutual recognition of the ministry and leaders, intercommunal relationship, and to explore possibilities of working together especially in the field of evangelization in India and other areas of cooperation in the fulfillment of the mission of the Church.