I went to a well attended Sunday morning service today at St Stephen's English church at Pallavaram on the outskirts of Chennai. It's a church with quite a history - and with a lively style of worship which attracted a congregation of a hundred or so, many of them young.
It's part of the Church of South India, so within the Anglican communion.
AN AUDIO EXCERPT FROM THE SERVICE BELOW
The church was established more than eighty years ago to serve primarily the Anglo-Indian community - a distinct social group, now dwindling in numbers, which has some (often now very distant) European lineage. Many 'Anglos' have moved to Britain, Canada and Australia - and the treasurer of the church said that of those that remained, few came to church regularly.
He says that about 40% of the church's membership is Anglo-Indian, but on average only about 10% of those attending services at St Stephen's are from the 'Anglo' community.
I don't know whether it happens every Sunday, but today there was an excellent breakfast for all attending St Stephen's, a South Indian assortment of idli, sambar, vada, uppama and coconut chutney. Brilliant!
The church and adjoining school are on military land. Initially services were held inside the barracks, but in the 1920s four Anglo-Indian women - all reputed to be war widows - started raising money to build a church, and in the mid-1930s the current building was consecrated.
This part of Pallavaram is called Veteran Lines - it was where land was made available, probably between the wars, for army veterans to construct houses. In the 1950s, the area was almost entirely Anglo-Indian. Some of the sites have been redeveloped, but others - a few dilapidated but several still lived in and cared for - are more-or-less unchanged.
I talked to Craig, a young man who was proud to describe himself as an Anglo-Indian. He was walking his two dogs, one a pug. His father was in England, he told me, and he was hoping to be able to join him. Craig's ambition to emigrate is one that has been widely shared within the community's ranks.
The Veteran Lines area is in the top right-hand corner of this map.
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