The other church on the mount
Walk into a Bandra church originally built for British Protestants that readies to celebrate 175 years next month
"Yeh church hai kya?" the rickshaw driver asks as we stop on Mount Mary Road, right before the grand old Basilica. To our right is St Stephen's Church. A glance at the structure won't tell you that it's close to 175 years old. The driver's question doesn't come as a surprise to presbyter-in-charge, Reverend Thomas Jacob. "Because it is a little church that is tucked away, many even in Bandra do not know it exists," he informs when I meet him. Having joined the parish in 2015, Jacob is cheery when he talks about how well-maintained its benches are and that the stained glass still gleams gloriously by the altar. There's also a plaque bearing the name of Rev Pitt Eykyn, chaplain of Parel, who died while conducting service in 1812. The text of his last sermon read, "He that endureth to the end shall be saved."
The English were not known to have lived in Bandra, even after the East India Company took control of the area in 1774. Rev Mitchel, a Scottish missionary purchased a cottage in 1831, followed by Mr. Bullock, an Englishman and Chief Magistrate of Bandra who came to stay in 1840. "Up to 1845, there was no Lady Jamshedjee Road that connected Bombay to Salsette," says historian Dr MD David. A parishioner at St Stephen's for 20 years, David informs that the British then found the place to be salubrious. "To cater to the British Protestant Christians, a plot of land was granted in 1845, and a church was opened in 1853. There was no Anglican Church here before this and parishioners had to travel to St James' in Thane. About 20 British families could be accommodated before an extension in 1972," he adds.
The grave of Quintilla Maude, who is believed to be a noble
While most churches boast of a British Gothic architectural style, David reckons his parish's to have a semi-Gothic architectural influence. In 1970, the Anglican churches became part of a union called the Church of North India (CNI). Sam Varkey, an 82-year-old who has been a parishioner for nearly six decades still travels from Vashi to attend Sunday mass. "This is one of the very few CNI churches with an attached cemetery. There is a record of people buried here since the 1890s. In the old days, we could still see the sea," he says.
The church features an attached cemetery
The church is now known for its outreach programmes. It runs a daycare centre and a study centre in the evening for students who do not have the right environment to study at home and are tutored by volunteers. "Till today, no student has failed," David informs.
Rev Thomas Jacob
A special thanksgiving service is scheduled for January 12. Being a predominantly Roman Catholic area, Catholic priests and nuns have also been invited. David sums up the reason in a jiffy. "We feel we have to move beyond the denominations that divide us. We share commonness, which also holds true beyond the Christian community owing to the humanity we share. We must work towards the greater good of society."
Famous faces at the church include former actress Mala Sinha, social worker and Padma Shri awardee Queenie Captain, badminton player George Lewis and nutritionist Thangam Philip
The church was christened the Church of Stephen the Martyr
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