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The story of Protestant Christianity in South Travancore is the story of the people, striving for emancipation through spiritual means. It is a socio-political and religio-cultural struggle. In short is their search for dignity and identity. The history of the Syrian and Roman Catholic faiths were brought into Travancore by foreign ecclesiastics. The Protestant religion had honour of being introduced into the state by one of its subjects.

The Pioneer of Protestant Christianity

Maharasan, a devout Hindu, longing to find peace took a pilgrimgae on foot to the Temple at Chidambaram. On his return, this disappointed seeker from Mylaudy – a village 4.5 miles North – West of Kanyakumari – had a vision that changed his course. On an eventful Sunday in the year 1799, Maharasan heard Rev. J.C Kohlhoff, proclaim the words of life. In a short time he received baptism at Tanjore and returned to Mylaudy and took the name Vedhamanickam.

The First Missionary

Vedhamanickam’s steadfast faith and ceaseless toil won many to Christ. In need of an experienced person to guide his flock. Vedhamanickam requested Kohhoff to send them a missionary. In response to his request, Rev. William Tobias Ringeltaube came to Mylaudy, which was part of the area then called Travancore.

The First Church

Over a period of ten years (1806-1816), through opposition, sickness and loneliness, Ringeltaube succeeded in builing the mission on a firm foundation. The first Church was built at Mylaudy in September 1809 and converts were baptized. Schools and Churches were established in six more villages. Thus the Mylaudy Mission began to take shape.

The First Institution

A large Church was built in Nagercoil, which later became the Home Church of the Diocese. The mission was shifted from Mylaudy to Nagercoil, which is 19 kilometers from Kanyakumari. A seminary established in Nagercoil, trained young men to become Church workers. Wives of the Missionaries trained girls in skills like lace making and embroidary. Boarding schools were started for girls and education for women gained momentum. Even non – Christian boys and girls received education. A printing press was started in 1821 and by 1838 a medical wing of the mission was established.

Travancore was caste – ridden and those who belonged to lower castes were ruthlessly denied education, choice of vacation and even dignity. Further, they were oppressed with heavy taxes. The Gospel and education offered to the lower castes helped them to break some of the fetters that had bound the men and women for centuries. Through the tireless efforts of the missionaries with the help of the British rulers, slavery was abolished.

Under the guidance of the London mission Society [LMS], 32 Churches in South Travancore became Pastorates and native Pastors were ordained in 1866. In 1874, the South Travancore Church Council was formed and when the Congrgational and Presbyterian Missions united in 1908, it became part of South India United Church (SIUC). With the formation of the SIUC negotiations were made with Anglicans and the Methodists for a wider Union.

The Trvancore Church Council in 1946 endorsed the wider union. South Travancore became a Diocese of this United Church. The South Travancore Diocese bifurcated into South Kerala Diocese and Kanyakumari Diocese in June 1959. The Diocese of Kanyakumari consisted of 40 Presbyters and 277 congregations including the two congregations of the Thirunelveli Revenue District, Kannangulam and Levinchipuram at the time of formation.

The oofice of the Diocese is situated at 71A, Dennis Street, Nagercoil – 629 001, Kanyakumari District, Tamilnadu.

Over the past many years, the clergy and the laity, men and women, children and youth, rich and poor, abled and the differently abled, have contributed to the growth of the Diocese so that ” all may have life”.

Period of Consolidation (1959 – 1973)

The challenge of fashioning a potentially rich Diocese fell upon the able shoulders of Bishop I.R.H. Gnanadason in 1959. Over the next fourteen years, his systematic planning and dedication to the core made Church Union complete and bought about advances in the field of education, especially in higher education and in educating those with special needs. The constitution and rules for the Diocese were framed. Medical work and Missionary ventures also took new dimensions. He advocated self-support and holistic life in the Church. His simplicity and eloquence had a for teaching influence. His tenure is rightly called the period of consolidation. In 1972, he was elected the fifth Moderator of the Church of South India .

Period of Theological Awakening (1973 – 1979)

Bishop C. Selvamony initiated a period of Theological awakening in the Diocese. The Church was drifting dangerously towards the whiles of popular religious teachings. As a Scholar, the Bishop took the responsibility of imparting Theological Education to people of all sorts, Soft-spoken, yet stern in his convictions, he equipped the Pastors and Educated the masses through discussions, seminars and conferences. Through many such workshops, He convinced the people the necessity of Bible Translations. The Diocesan Library owes its existence to Bishop Selvamony. A firm believer of faith in actio, he helped to establish Children’s Homes, Vocational Centers and Day Care Units. A long felt need for a Women’s College was fulfilled during his period. The Bishop continues to serve the marginalised in his retirement.

Period of Development (1980 – 1997)

A long term of seventeen years enabled the youthful Bishop G. Christdhas to dream for the Diocese and to make the dreams come true. His was a period of development in the Diocese. The welfare of the Pastors and Church Workers was taken care of. A programme of continuing education was staried for them and many Welfare Schemes were introduced. Education flourished at all levels. Post-graduate and research programmes were introduced in the Colleges. A Polytechnic, two Industrial Training Institutes and Institute of Technology were started. A Public School, A School of Nursing and Paramedical Courses also were begun in various places. He introduced a new pattern of ministry, which was purely people-oriented. The Diocesan Community Hall, Conference Centre, the Chapel, office buildings and a Shopping Centre speak volumes of the activities of the dynamic Bishop. The Human Welfare Centre and many schemes benefiting the poor, started then, continue to remind his contribution.

Period of Spiritual Revival (1977 – 2000)

As a man of long Pastoral experience, Bishop M.I. Kesari endeavoured to build the Church Holistically on a firm spiritual foundation. He devised the programme Vision Mission 2000. The Diocesan Missionary Prayer Band was strengthened and Pastors were encouraged to serve in the mission fields. The Christian College of Nursing and the Christian College of Physiotheraphy took shape under his leadership. He moved closely with the people and he was available to them. Certainly his period was a period of spiritual revival.

Period of Concern (2001 Onwards)

When Bishop G. Devakadasham assumed leadership, the cracks in the unity of the Church were threatening to widen and his efforts to bring accord were blessed immensely. Thus started a period of growth in the Church and visions taking shape. To enable smooth functioning of the Diocese, the constitution was revised. The following departments were started to cater to the different needs of the Church.

The Department of Christian Education and Nurture has a major concern for the Children and the Department of Youth Concerns has involved various activities to develop and build the Youth. The Department of Human Resource Development Provides Theological Education to the Church. Workers and the Laity. It is also dedicated to train Men and Women in the service of the Community and Church. The Communication and Revival Ministries takes care of the publication of literature and conduct of revival meetings, etc. The Church Workers Welfare Department cares for the Welfare of the Church Workers. The Men’s Fellowship and Women’s Fellowship are connected with the development of spiritual activities.

Diocesan Annual Convention has become a regular feature. New order of Worship and Peraya Pamalai , the newly edited hymnal including revival songs, have brought about a revival in Church Worship. Church Workers renew their Theological Education and the laity are trained to work in Mission Fields through Christian Mission Education Programme.

Several welfare scheme have been introduced. Home to the homeless, Old Age Pension, Marriage Gifts Assistance, Scholarships to the Economically Backward, help to the bereaved families and Girl Child Programmes are few that speak of the efforts done to the betterment of the marginalized. One feels that this is indeed a period of concern.