Fifty years after Indian independence, the Christian impact on India has been "out of all proportion to the number of Christians in the country", according to George Koshy, General Secretary of the Church of South India. (Prof. Koshy is an ACC member and author of an article on the CSI in a forthcoming issue of Anglican World magazine).
"Through a lot of our institutions, we have influenced a lot of Hindus and others who have come up as leaders in the country. Many of our leaders were educated in Christian schools and colleges," Prof. Koshy said, pointing out that the current speaker of the Indian parliament, P. A. Sangma, was a Christian. According to a 1991 census, only 2.3 per cent of India's population is Christian, compared with 82 per cent Hindu and 12.1 per cent Muslim.
"Our voice is respected," Prof. Koshy told ENI in Debrecen, Hungary, where he is attending the General Council of the World Alliance of Reformed Churches.
Fifty years ago - at midnight on 14 August - India became independent. On that night in 1947 Prof. Koshy listened to the radio broadcast of the ceremonies marking his country's new status. This year he is celebrating not only 50 years of India's independence, but also the 50th anniversary of the inauguration of his Church.
The Church of South India was founded on 27 September 1947 - just over a month after independence - as the world's first united Church to include Anglican, Methodist, Presbyterian and Congregational traditions.
A major celebration is being organised next month (26 to 28 September) to mark the CSI anniversary at which more than 200 of the world's Church leaders are expected.
Today the former traditions have all but disappeared: "I knew that I was an ex-Anglican. My children don't know anything. My children have grown up in the Church of South India, they don't know what Anglican, Methodists are," Prof. Koshy told ENI.
Nevertheless, the CSI had joined WARC - as well as the World Methodist Council and the Anglican Consultative Council - "because we want to keep up our relationship with our so-called mother Churches. Otherwise we would be isolated from the rest of the world. And we hope that our presence in these confessional bodies will be an inspiration for other Churches to unite. We believe that ours is a pioneering effort."
The Church of South India has 3 million members and 11 000 congregations in 21 dioceses (including, for historical reasons, one diocese in northern Sri Lanka). The CSI runs 2000 colleges, 130 schools and 104 hospitals. 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.
Although the Church received assistance from abroad for the projects, "even if the aid wasn't there we could survive," Prof. Koshy said.
The time of "mass conversions" had finished, Prof. Koshy said. Nevertheless, in Madras, a survey had found there were up to 100 000 Hindus "who believed in Jesus Christ, but they did not want to be baptised because you would be ostracised.
"If you ask them they will tell you they believe in Jesus Christ because of the lives of the Christians around them, that they have seen."