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Letter to Metropolitan
  By Rev A.P. Jacob and five other priests  
 
Most Rev. Dr. Joseph Mar Thoma Metropolitan
Most Rev. Dr. Philipose Mar Chrysostom Mar Thoma Valiya Metropolitan and
All other Bishops of the Mar Thoma Church

Date: 16-07-2013


Dear Tirumeni,

We, the undersigned clergy of the Mar Thoma church, long to see our church remain committed to discern the will of God in all matters. We are particularly concerned to see this commitment in examining the challenges and opportunities associated with the rapid changes in the last fifty years. After prayerful consideration we are presenting below some of the issues which we consider as highly important for the due consideration and appropriate follow up action by the Episcopal Synod. We assure the Metropolitan and the Episcopal Synod of our whole hearted support in all steps for the contextual renewal of the church.

I The Background
We believe that the 19th century reformation in Malabar was an act of God and a response of the church to God's actions. One hundred and seventy seven years later, we need to discern the opportunities being opened up by God and the challenges posed by the unfolding events. Changes in the social fabric due to economic development, the dominance of the market economy and the struggles of the marginalized are enormous. The spread of the church as an international body through migration and the evangelistic outreach of the church is also of great significance. The God of history is beckoning the Mar Thoma Church to discern what he is doing and to respond to his actions so that we may become co-workers with him in his world. The personal, corporate and structural dimensions of the church need to be reviewed comprehensively to see whether we are equipped to travel with our God in his onward march.

II Sociological changes
The challenges and opportunities arising from migration and the evangelistic outreach of the church deserve highest priority. At the time of the 19th century Reformation the Mar Thoma church was entirely rural, geographically limited to central Travancore with just isolated pockets in the Kunnamkulam-Trichur belt. We are now spread across the world. The market economy and the electronic media are now shaping human thinking, values and behaviour to a considerable degree. The world view of the urban Indians is now dominated by radical individualism and the values of the market economy. There has been an idealization of affluent living and a diminution in the concern for the poor. Poverty and plenty are both leaving many people unsupported and isolated.

The migrant urban youth of our church within and outside India are deeply influenced by the changes in the world view of modern humans. Alongside, corruption has made deep inroads into national life, including the democratic processes. Corruption has spread to public life, religious movements and to the churches. The above changes in church and society have raised several issues which demand urgent attention. We would highlight the following as among the more important in the adaptation of the church to the sweeping changes: [1] Issues Arising from Expansion of the church due to migration and evangelistic mission [2] Issues Arising from Affluence, and [3] Sharpening Episcopal Oversight and Witness.

III Issues Arising from Expansion of the Church
The world wide migration, social changes in Kerala, and the evangelistic out reach of the church have together made our church very plural. It is now a global, multi-cultural, multi-lingual and multi-ethnic faith community. Though numerically small, the church is highly plural and no more an exclusively Malayalam speaking church of "Syrian Christians". The commitment of the church to its Lord is to become visible in adapting its life and ministerial forms to these major changes, particularly the global scattering and the emergence of plurality.

A Redefining the identity of the church
The new believers in the mission fields and those born and brought up outside Kerala are challenging the Mar Thoma church to redefine its identity. Traditionally, our church has defined itself as an Eastern, Reformed Church. Both elements in the identity of the Church need to be redefined in the context of the expansion of the Church through migration and evangelistic mission. Neither the migrant youths nor the new faith communities in the mission fields will be helped by a casteist definition of the church as "Syrian Christian".

In the redefinition of our identity, special attention needs to be paid to the following:

The exclusivism implied in the understanding of the church as "Syrian Christian" needs to be given up in favour of openness and inclusiveness which can accommodate the linguistic, cultural and ethnic plurality of the church. 'Eastern' and 'Reformed' need to be clearly defined in liturgical and theological terms.

Malayalam is no longer the mother tongue of many and hence we are no more an exclusively Malayalee church. The church now includes people who speak English, Hindi, Kannada, Tamil and Telugu as their mother tongue. The resultant plurality demands plurality in liturgy, ministerial forms and in the composition of the ordained ministry. It is important to develop culturally and linguistically 'homely liturgies' for the different linguistic and cultural groups. The liturgies need to preserve the genius of Eastern worship with contextually relevant forms and content. The trend to use more of Syriac and revive archaic practices is anachronistic. It is also important to equip the clergy and the other missionaries of the church to serve people in a cross-cultural context. This applies to the evangelists from Kerala who serve outside, clergy born in Kerala but serving outside, and to clergy born outside Kerala but serving in Kerala. Equipment for cross-cultural ministry for all ministers of the church, lay and ordained, is an urgent need. Theological education of clergy and evangelists needs to take this into serious account.

The second and subsequent generations of youths in migrant lands struggle to be rooted in two worlds: the world of their parents and the world they inhabit. One of their important needs is to belong to the land of migration and not be alien there. The church needs to serve them in three important ways. Firstly, they need theological tools to critique the assumptions behind the local culture and local spiritual traditions to discern between the appropriate and the inappropriate in their tradition as well as in their context. This is important in particular because versions of Christian spirituality which uncritically accept the assumptions of globalisation and the market economy are being aggressively propagated. Building a substantial catechetical literature is therefore an urgent need. Secondly, they need literature to understand the heritage of the Church from within their context. Thirdly, they need contemporary expressions of Eastern worship which are culturally and contextually appropriate. A large number of migrant youths have deserted the church due to insufficient attention to the above.

In helping the migrant youths, building up a team of competent lay leaders from among the youths who can help them draw from their roots to adapt to the land of migration is an urgent need. Young people today have greater trust in leaders emerging from their own ranks than in clerics.

There is also need to redefine 'Reformed' in the context of migration. The core of reformation is not the changes in the practices of the church but the renewal of believers for contextually vibrant Christian living. Such vibrant life needs to become part of the identity of the church through continuing reformation. It is important to recall that the 19th century Reformation went beyond changes in the liturgy to an ethical renewal of the mind for vibrant Christian living.

B Nurturing the Mission Fields
In the context of the mission fields also there is need to redefine 'Eastern' and 'Reformed'. Worship in the context of new faith communities is a matter of urgent attention. The context of the mission field is radically different from that of the migrant youth within and outside India. Therefore the liturgies for the mission fields, including Dalit communities in Kerala, could be different from that for traditional parishes in Kerala and for urban migrant youths. There is considerable reservation in the mission fields towards the translated versions of the Mar Thoma worship. Forms of worship which are contextually relevant and faithful to the local culture are needed. Conscious and deliberate efforts are also needed to manifest the signs of the Kingdom of God in the local context. Then only do we become an Eastern, Reformed Church in the context of the mission fields. Taking remedial action in this matter cannot any longer be postponed.

There is need for considerable study and reflection on our mission strategies in different parts of India. It is worth listening to the experiences of sister churches ranging from Roman Catholic to the Evangelicals in this matter. Evolving an appropriate mission strategy for each mission field is vital. On the face of rising fundamentalism, our mission strategies need appropriate new initiatives to relate to the struggles of local communities. A comprehensive review of each mission field to evaluate whether the programmes are addressing significant needs of the local community is desirable. The review program is to be a positive effort to inspire our workers and boost their spirit. It should also help our workers to experience support from the church in the many challenges they face on the field. Persons working in the mission fields contact intimately the world outside and their vocation demands greater creativity. For this reason thorough and efficient training needs to be given to the missionary. Today we are giving greater importance to the training of clergy as compared to the missionary. The quality of training for the missionary needs all-round improvement.

C. Nurturing the Local Parish for Mission
There is stagnation in the life of many parishes and in the working of the recognized institutions of the church. We have adapted poorly to the socio-economic changes at the local and global levels. Presently the spiritual care of the parish is mostly vested in the parish priest who is often over burdened with administration and liturgical responsibilities. There is under utilization of the lay resources of the parish. There has consequently been a decline in competent lay leadership and a progressive clericalization of the church. In the process the major task of nurturing the parish as a spiritual fellowship is sidelined. In the urban parishes many young people have left the church since their leadership potential has not been harnessed by the church.

The secure financial base of the members of the church has led many to focus on enhancing their personal wellbeing. There is a growing belief that possessions would make life fulfilling. Consequently relationships have become shallow and formal. There is increasing tendency to have the programmes of the church met through sponsorship by the rich. This is reducing the involvement of the less wealthy in the life of the church and is blocking them from ‘owning’ the church. Alcoholism and affluent living have taken deep roots. Wealth is not seen as an instrument to promote just interpersonal and social relationships. The responsibility to treat money as a gift from God to promote the cause of the Kingdom of God is ignored. The fundamental malady is that the church as a whole has failed to discern the spiritual meaning and significance of wealth. Consequently when crises strike persons and families, they are left without spiritual resources within them or spiritual support from the church. The spiritually ill equipped members of the church thus become vulnerable to spiritual exploitation by sectarian groups. There is need to educate the church as to how money may become a medium for the promotion of holistic human relationship and wholesome community living. The life of the local parish is therefore to help people to be open to each other and to the world. Models of parish life which enhance wholesome spiritual fellowship in local communities need to be evolved. Selected parishes in rural and urban settings may evolve newer patterns of parish life in which a team of lay persons together with the vicar shape holistic nurture and holistic witness in the local context.

The assumption of the world that accumulation of wealth and enhancing physical comforts would enrich life is to be challenged through revival of parish life. The projects and programmes of the local parish are to serve this end. The mission of the local parish is to be redefined within this framework.

The ability and skill to be genuine human beings in relation to our neighbours of other faith traditions is vital. The need to stay related is often overlooked. The importance of staying related needs to be internalized by members of a church committed to mission. Local parishes may be encouraged to enter into experimental programmes which promote contact with the local community. Ecumenism at the local level also has almost died out. Revival of ecumenical contacts with sister churches is an urgent need. Affluence has led to a false self sufficiency in the church with lower energy for the care of the local community or the sister churches. Care is limited to giving of money to the projects and programmes of the church and not in engaging caring actions in day to day living. General guidelines may be evolved for enhancing creative forms of Christian living and witness in the local community and in sustaining ecumenical contacts. This would contribute to making the mission of the local parish more meaningful. This would also promote ecumenism and communal harmony.

IV Issues Arising From Affluence
There has to be a whole hearted call for simpler living. The love of luxury is abounding in the church while human suffering abounds all over. Bishops, clergy and laity are increasingly succumbing to the belief that possessions would ensure human wellbeing. There is show of vanity connected with marriages, in the construction of palatial houses, excessive eating and in the possession of expensive cars. Visiting the "holy land" has achieved the status of a pilgrimage in a church which in the past has frowned on pilgrimages. Crores are spent by the members of the church on such pilgrimages while we overlook the tears of the poor living nearer by. Church life is dominated by tours and trips and by programmes sponsored by the rich. God given resources are being spent on pulling down good churches and building impressive and luxurious structures out of proportion to the needs of parishes. This is going on while our new faith communities in remote villages and in the mission fields are going without houses of worship. There is inadequate realization that the Mar Thoma population in Kerala is steadily declining due to migration and other reasons. How many will be left twenty five years from now to worship in the huge churches being built in rural Kerala is a question which remains unasked. The need for the proposed new Poolatheen complex at a huge cost to the church also needs to be examined.

The members of the church may be able to afford the money they spend on luxuries on homes and church buildings. We fail to ask whether by doing so we are contributing to the harmony God wants on earth or are alienating ourselves from a substantial section of human population. The church has failed to give a sense of direction to its members regarding appropriate and inappropriate use of money in the Indian and global context. There has been very little effort by the leadership, clergy and bishops alike, to model simpler living or to exhort the church towards simplicity. One of the expectations of the church in preserving celibate episcopacy is that it would model simplicity and challenge the church towards simple living. The meaning and significance of celibate episcopacy for challenging the church towards simple living and vibrant witness needs to be rediscovered.

In the above context it is heartening and inspiring to see the new head of the Church of Rome, Pope Francis, making a call for simple living and modelling it by avoidance of pomp and show. Most of our evangelists and many of our Achens serving in the hill areas of Kerala and in villages outside Kerala are living in environments with minimal facilities. When the bishops and fellow clergy do not follow simplicity as an ideal, the church loses its solidarity with them. Ministry in the mission fields would be considered as a stepping stone to "greener pastures". Long term commitment to mission and evangelism will dwindle. Life in the mission fields is uncertain for the evangelist and the clergy. They face hardships and threats. A church living in luxury is unlikely to inspire them as they face the hardships and threats of day to day living and witnessing. Living in solidarity with our brothers and sisters in the mission fields and in remote villages must be accepted as a challenge.

The link between the corruption of the democratic processes of the church and affluence is not adequately recognised. Presently it is nearly impossible to get elected to any significant office in the church without pumping in many thousands of rupees and sparing many days to meet the voters several times. Many practices which are clearly unethical in the secular world are followed in church elections. What is corrupt in the secular world has become "clean" in the church. The result is that those who love the church are scared away. The church is losing wise counsel. Urgent steps are needed to evolve a code of conduct by which the play of money and unethical practices are curbed.

V Sharpening Episcopal Oversight and Witness
The Mar Thoma Church is indebted to its bishops, past and present, for their dedicated services. The hard work of bishops in consolidating the life of Diaspora parishes and in inspiring work in the mission fields is gratefully recognized and deeply appreciated. At the same time, certain trends among the bishops do not fit in with the ideals we hold about the episcopate. We respectfully bring these to the attention of the bishops.

A Ensuring Freedom of Expression
The challenges faced by the church currently deserve to be addressed wholeheartedly in a spirit of unity by the laity, the clergy and the bishops. It is mandatory that all shades of opinion in these matters are heard and responded to with respect. Unfortunately, freedom of expression and the willingness to listen, particularly to dissenting opinion, have declined. We have experienced an increasing intolerance of dissent and attempts to suppress opinion through inappropriate shouting down of people. Warmth and love for the person and office of the bishop suffers through such inappropriate shouting at people. There is widespread fear among the clergy about prejudicial action against them if opinions are expressed openly. This has resulted in a culture of silence and has drained out the creativity of enlightened laity and the clergy. This environment is an unfortunate deviance from the authentic tradition of the Mar Thoma church.

The church is paying a heavy price for this. In the current world, when respectful listening and response are not offered, people simply walk away to pursue other interests. A humane atmosphere is not ensured by the hierarchy even in the representative bodies of the church such as the Mandalam and the Sabha Council. The result is that people who can make a qualitative difference to the life of the church have either withdrawn from or have abandoned the church. A lot of bitterness is simply swallowed by many, leaving them frustrated. The passion for the church, the true heritage of the church, is drained out. More than everything else, there is loss of transparency and authenticity in communication at all levels. There could be corresponding frustrations for the bishops also. These also need to be brought out in the open and our true heritage of mutual love and respect restored.

The bishops of the church and the Metropolitan in particular, have a special responsibility to ensure freedom of expression including expression of dissenting opinion. The major issues facing the church which we have outlined above remain inadequately addressed partly because of the denial of freedom of thought and expression by which alone can creativity begin to manifest.

B Decline in the Relationship between Bishops and Clergy
The close emotional bond between the bishops, the clergy and the laity has been a part of the identity of the church formed through shared poverty in our history. The bishops, clergy and laity stood shoulder to shoulder in seeing through the crisis that followed the loss of nearly all property. This tradition of intimacy continued in facing the schism of the evangelicals in the fifties and sixties. The very deep emotional bond between the bishops, the clergy, and the laity is a gift of God for the Mar Thoma church.

Intolerance of dissent and the denial of a culture of respectful listening create alienation between the bishop and the clergy. Some bishops are now surrounded by people who indiscriminately say "yes" to them. There is widespread complaint among the clergy that the "yes men" receive the protection of the bishop even for their misdeeds and receive favours in transfer. On the contrary those who serve the church conscientiously are victimised or ignored in reaction to any dissent they may have expressed. The implicit message going out to young clergy is to remain silent and indifferent about all things that might attract the negative attention of the bishop. The morale of the conscientious clergy is steadily declining and a culture of pleasing bishops to gain favours is steadily growing.

The relationship between bishops and clergy has particularly come under a cloud since the seventies. As noted above, some clergy began to behave in erratic ways to amass money from the service of the church. This certainly needed curbing. The more conscientious among the clergy have abided by the limits set by the Synod. Some others have aligned with some of the bishops and have continued in their erratic ways. The more conscientious clergy have become very frustrated as they see fellow clergy successfully sidetracking the discipline applicable to clergy. The relationship between bishops and clergy suffers deeply when the bishop who enforces discipline himself remains above the discipline of the church and remains unaccountable to the church in the mobilization and utilization of funds and in the exercise of power. Fellowship between bishops, clergy and laity which was a very special gift of God to the Mar Thoma Church has been damaged significantly in the recent past. Inappropriate stewardship of money and power has contributed substantially to this situation. It is God's will for this church that we become aware of what we have done and make amends to restore lost love.

It is our observation that the ability of bishops to work co-operatively with Achens who hold an independent opinion is declining. When bishops are transferred, they carry with them those who are considered good to work with. The favoured Diocesan Secretary Achens are persuaded to resign and are carried with the bishop to the new Diocese without allowing him to complete his term. The not favoured Diocesan Secretary is forced to ask for a transfer outside the Diocese to make way for a favoured one. The constitution of the church stipulates a three year term for the Diocesan Secretary. Violence is done to the constitution when elected secretaries are forced or persuaded to resign to suit the interest of the bishop.

C Ensuring Accountability of the Bishops
The Episcopate in the Mar Thoma Church is indisputably 'constitutional' and not 'monarchic'. As the bishops began to receive a share in the affluence of our members, financial vested interests started creeping into the thinking and behaviour of the bishops and of the Episcopal Synod. According to the oath taken by the bishops at the time of consecration any assets, except ancestral property, which comes into the hands of the bishops, belong to the church. However, in present practice, receipts are not issued for all monies received. This involves a double standard for accountability: one for the bishop another for the laity and clergy.

The net result is that crores of Rupees are collectively being received and spent by the bishops in the name of the church without accountability to the church. The Government is told that the money belongs to the church and is not personal income. At the same time it is managed as if it were personal money and is not accounted in the books of account of the church. The contradiction involved is too glaring and the present practice unethical. The Government will agree to the position that the money belongs to the church only if the money received and spent by the bishop is properly receipted and included in the books of account of the church. The present practice makes the church and the bishops very vulnerable. Above all, such management of the resources of the church results in loss of transparency in the financial dealings of the bishop, alienates the bishop from the church and erodes the moral authority of the bishop. It is only a transparent episcopate in which the clergy and the laity can put their trust. It is in an environment of trust and transparency that the episcopate can inspire the church to face contemporary challenges.

Trust, confidence, and warmth in the hearts of the members of the church are a grater asset than any amount of money. When the former is lost the latter becomes hollow. We submit that it is absolutely essential to make amends to the present practice such that in the receiving and spending of money there is accountability to the church, conformity to the law of the land and obedience to the constitution of the church.

A related issue is the mobilization and utilization of resources of the church by the bishops. We would like to draw the attention of the bishops to the report adopted by the Mandalam in connection with the establishment of Trusts and Societies. It clearly states that the bishops individually or the Episcopal Synod corporately are not competent to establish Trusts and societies or to mobilizes resources for Trusts and societies without mandate from the church.[Para 8.4 &9.4] Accordingly, resource mobilization requires a mandate from the church. Bishops are obliged to abide by the decisions of the Mandalam in this matter.

Attempts to go back to monarchic ways by the bishops in the Mar Thoma Church cannot be seen in isolation from the widespread corruption of the Episcopal office in the Indian churches. Many bishops are involved in charges of corruption amounting to many crores of rupees. In several Indian churches huge sums are invested into becoming a bishop. Some become Metropolitans and Archbishops through dubious ways to add respectability to themselves and, in the opinion of many, to cover up their financial misdeeds. The office of the bishop has degenerated in the Indian church into something other than what it was in the Apostolic church: the symbol of the unity of the church and continuity in Apostolic Faith. Non-accountability in the exercise of power and management of money by the bishops in the Mar Thoma Church will inevitably lead to the same tragedy that several churches in India are presently facing. We believe that God expects the bishops of the Mar Thoma Church to model excellence in 'episcope' by remaining faithful to the Apostolic tradition rather than follow the path of the corrupt ones.

In recent years there were two Episcopal consecrations of questionable validity. One involved a consecration by a former Moderator of the Church of South India. The CSI disowned the action of its own Moderator. The CNI ousted two of its bishops who joined in that consecration. The other consecration involved the Roman Catholic Archbishop of Allahabad. The Catholic Church took disciplinary action against him by forcing him to resign. The actions of the Moderator of the CSI and of the Roman Catholic Archbishop of Allahabad where disowned by the respective churches because the bishops were not acting on behalf of the church and hence were acting in breach of the discipline of the church in which they were bishops. However, it is reliably reported that the Mar Thoma Metropolitan participated in the consecration in Allahabad.

It is self evident that the action of the Archbishop of Allahabad involved a breach of discipline of his church. Therefore, regardless of the extent of participation, it is highly objectionable for the Mar Thoma Metropolitan to be present at an invalid consecration in which the consecrating bishop had no mandate from his church and hence was acting against the discipline of his church. It deserves to be noted that there was no bishop from the CNI or the CSI at the said consecration. It is deeply regretted that the Metropolitan acted in this matter without any reference to the Episcopal Synod and hence without a mandate from the Mar Thoma Church. Such actions only breed indiscipline among the clergy of the church. It cannot be overlooked that in recent past two Achens of our church became bishops through invalid consecrations. There is need to recover the true heritage of the Mar Thoma Church as a Reformed Eastern Church in which the bishop is a bishop of the church and not a bishop in his own right.

D Retirement of Bishops
The practice of retirement of bishops is becoming quite common in several churches which follow celibate episcopacy. The Pope himself has shown the way recently. It is high time that the Mar Thoma Church adopted a policy for retirement of bishops at a stipulated age. It needs to be remembered that the retirement of clergy was enforced in our church a generation ago. It was enforced on clergy who were ordained for life. Like all humans, the bishops need a period free from the burden of responsibility to count the mercies of God. The book of Genesis recalls that God rested on the seventh day to enjoy his work. Creation is complete when celebrated through rest and relaxation. The privilege of such enjoyment must extend to the bishops who have laboured hard in administering the church. A bishop in office has no option but to bear the burden of administration, regardless of his age and health. Carrying such burden into the advanced years of life is not in the best interests of either the bishop or the church. Unlike in previous generations, the office of the bishop needs to be exercised with great dynamism to steer the church into new and unprecedented paths. It is over optimistic to expect such dynamism of any human being beyond an age. The church today has the resources to take appropriate care of retired bishops. Hence the practice of retirement of Bishops at a stipulated age will be a very appropriate step for the Mar Thoma church. We suggest that bishops retire at the completion of 75 years.

VI RECOMMENDATIONS
We request that the Synod and the church consider all issues raised above. Some of them require immediate attention. Our recommendations regarding these are presented below:

Four working groups may be formed to make proposals for the revision of the liturgies of the church: [1] for the migrant congregations outside India, [2] the urban congregations in India, and [3] the newer faith communities in India. [4] the historic community in Kerala. The working groups must include persons from the respective communities in addition to experts on liturgy. The liturgies must have sufficient shared elements to preserve the unity of the church and at the same time be relevant for the population for which these liturgies are created.

Generating literature for the education of laity is to receive priority. A new text book outlining the basic doctrines of the Church, including sections on sacraments and sacramental theology, for use by the migrant youths may be brought out. The book is to bring out the fact that we hold on to a holistic understanding of the gospel in accordance with the Scriptures. The book may also bring out the assumptions behind the teachings of the new generation churches, offer a critique of them, and answer questions most often asked by urban youths.

A curriculum for the training of lay leaders is to be drawn out. We should aim at equipping each parish with a team of competent lay leaders within the next ten years. The program must be sufficiently flexible for adaptation to the needs of the church in Kerala, in other parts of India, and in the parishes outside India.

A review within the Episcopal Synod and the house of clergy on the lifestyle of the bishop and the clergy in the contemporary world may be initiated. On the basis of the findings of the review, appropriate changes should be initiated in the functioning of the office of the bishop and of the Kassissa. The review must also include a search for the meaning of celibate episcopacy in the contemporary world.

The period of Lent is to be set apart as a period of comprehensive renunciation of affluent and irresponsible living. The food in particular must be frugal, not merely vegetarian. It must be made very clear that renunciation during Lent is not a license to live luxuriously during the rest of the year.

Encouragement may be given to convention speakers to preach on the dangers of an affluent lifestyle, paying special attention to its share in family breakup, alcoholism, and licentious living. The sin of leading an affluent life in the midst of the poverty of many must also be emphasised.

There must be a call to all parishes and mission fields to come up with proposals to deepen their involvement in the life of the local community and strengthen the mission in the local community. The more creative proposals may be published in the various publications for the consideration of other parishes. A selected number of parishes and mission fields may be encouraged to enter into experimental programs to deepen their witness in the local community. A series of workshops may be arranged for Achens interested in innovative forms of pastoral ministry.

Guidelines may be evolved for the construction and reconstruction of churches. Exhorting the church to have simpler structures with enough facility for the gathering together of the parish needs to be emphasised. Appropriate assessment as to whether the congregation is likely to grow or dwindle also must be made by a competent body. Large structures to contain the Good Friday gathering would leave the church half empty on a normal Sunday and would generate negative energy. Parishes investing more than one crore to build a new church may be persuaded to contribute 5% of the amount towards construction of a church in a backward area. This would also create a bond of love between the two parishes involved.

A commission may be appointed to submit a code of conduct for the candidates seeking election to the representative bodies of the church. This may be opened up for discussion in the church and finalized in the light of comments from the church. There must also be an authority to check on violation of the code of conduct.

Periodic workshops may be arranged for bishops and those who hold important administrative responsibilities in the church to enhance their human relationship skills and skills in personnel management.

A system of financial accountability by bishops for the funds they receive and spend needs to be evolved. The system must conform to the demands of the law of the land and the constitution of the church which stipulates that the money received by the bishop belongs to the church.

When an invitation for Episcopal consecration is received from any church with which the Mar Thoma church is not in communion, the appropriateness of representation and extent of participation should be considered and decided by the Episcopal Synod of our church.
Discussion may be initiated in the Synod on the matter of retirement of bishops at a stipulated age. Relevant amendments to the constitution may be introduced in the Mandalam.

The church must form in each centre a task force to respond to calamities and emergencies in the region.

We request that this letter and the recommendations contained be considered by the Episcopal Synod. We also request that the issues raised be brought to the attention of other appropriate bodies of the church. We pray that wisdom from above may be granted in responding to the issues raised. We offer ourselves to be available for any discussion on the issues raised and recommendations made.

Yours in the ministry of the Lord,
Rev. A. P. Jacob
Rev. Dr. K. V. Mathew
Rev. Kurian Thomas [Mallappally]
Rev. Varghese Thomas [Anicadu]
Rev. John Mathew, [Kuriannur]
Rev. Dr. Abraham Kuruvilla
 
   
   
The truth shall set you free!
  By Shaheen Myra  
  SOMETIMES very simple things that we see around ourselves have a lot to teach. I come to this place every day. Except for the daily life events, other things of far less significance tend to remain static. Do we ever stare at the patterns drawn on the walls and the bolts of the doors, the intricate details on these? We generally do not. But sometimes, even less-important things, when compared to things in the real world, can lead us to some exciting moments of thought, realization and acceptance. A similar experience this morning took me to a journey of practicalities in the light of the word of God.

The place where I work has a beautiful wall decor. A quick glance at the walls shows that there are birds and plants and flowers drawn on the wall. A relaxed and thoughtful glance will show the depth of the art that the pattern carries. Many birds, all of similar design, but with difference in the way they have been drawn (created) cover the wall adjacent to my seat. Some are flying high, some low, but all heading in one direction, as if following the same tide. It gives the impression of the human race, all following the same path, blindly following the ones ahead of them, so engrossed in the race called life.

Contrary to this, there was a beautiful view outside the room. A big glass wall keeps the cozy and warm room connected with the outside world. One can stare through it and keep abreast with the world -- the fog, the trees, the birds, the sky-scrapers peeping through the scarcely covered trees, a few in number, but a home to many who are winged.

Inside the room, I could see a wall with lifeless birds drawn on it and through the glass, I could see a pair of birds flying freely in the air. What a contrast! The same creation, yet one enjoying the heavenly bliss of soaring high and freely, while the others (human art) flying in one direction, depicting a blindly-followed pattern. The ones flying in the open skies portrayed an amazing sight, as if set free, away from the falsehood of worldly experiences. The beautiful sight of seeing them enjoy their sovereignty made me think of the verse in the book of John. Lord's creation was enacting his word, "You will know the truth and the truth shall set you free" (John 8: 34) in its truest sense. It seemed as if they had received the anointing and were set free from the clutches of false ideas, misconceptions and the human way of life.

The word 'truth' refers to genuineness, veracity and verity of something. In context to Christian faith, many would think of truth to be synonymous with belief, some deeply-embedded teachings, orthodoxy or strong feelings of likeness towards God. Yet, the verse gives a beautiful message wherein, Jesus is interacting with the Jews. The Jews argue that they are the descendants of Abraham and they have never been enslaved by anyone so why do they need to be set free? Jesus replied whoever sins is a slave of sin. A slave has no place in the family but the son has and only the son can set them free.

The son can indeed set us free. In fact, he already has. A son is his father's representative and so is Jesus, a representative of his heavenly father. He is the son, who was compliant to the extent of even becoming a sacrificial lamb.

In yet another verse from the book of John (14:6), Jesus said "I am the way, and the truth, and the life". He is the truth as he himself followed the Law of God. He is the way to eternal life. He is the life as he sacrificed his own life to wash away the sins of sinners, to give us all an everlasting and sovereign life.

Considering his selfless love for each one of us, and believing in him sets us free from the clutches of the harsh human experiences. We need not feel helpless, engrossed in the hassle of worldly affairs. Rather, we can soar high like the birds in the sky, enjoying the heavenly bliss of freedom from anxiety, fear and worries and living freely trusting our creator for all our needs and desires.

Shaheen Myra is a Chandigarh-based writer
 
   
   
Let children come to me
  By Rev Sam Koshy T. (Elanthoor)  
  WHO prevented the children from coming to Jesus? Will they be prevented from coming closer to Him? Is it paining Christ that our children are kept away from Him due to the prevalent culture? If so, the purpose of this study is to know what pains Christ.

Christ is the divine path in the pursuit of complete godliness and complete humanness. It is the same path that leads to godliness and manliness. What pains Christ is that the children are kept away from this path. What every Christian starts from the time of baptism is this marathon race. We are responsible for preventing the children from pursuing this journey to attain godliness and humanness.

Children grow into godliness through worship in the church. This is why baptism of the child, i.e., bringing the new-born to the church for the first time, is a sacrament. Albert Schweitzer says in his autobiographical noting that though he did not understand all that was said in the church during his childhood days, it helped him cultivate a sense of awe and wonder about our life and our quest for survival.

By not bringing the children to the church from the very early age, we are not only depriving them of the opportunity to know about life and the journey to godliness but are also throwing them to materialism, greed, and malformation.

The church should become our second home. At least one-third of the seating space of the church should be reserved for children. God will rejoice over this.

We come to know God through the word of God. The thrust of the reformed church is also on the sacred word of God. I recently got acquainted with a five-year-old boy - 'Vattakkottayil Thomas' of Pathanapuram (son of Dr. Sam and Dr. Selin). He can recite verses like Issiah: 54: 7-17, Psalms 1, 121 and 91. He learned them from his grandma who recited verses for him daily.

When children learn Biblical verses by heart, the verses penetrate into their mind. In the process, they imbibe the essence, language, meaning and style of the divine words. What pains Jesus is that our children do not care to learn by heart the verses, though they learn by heart many other things.

It is the participation in the holy sacraments that makes the children understand the mystery and experience the wonders of divinity. It is through these sacraments that they feel the magical experiences of life. These get painted in different hues in the minds of children. What understanding of life and its complexities can a child have if he has not attended a wedding, a baptism or a funeral? It is such children who remain ignorant of life situations, though they may be familiar with the Internet, use mobile phones and enjoy cartoons etc. It is this action of ours, keeping away the children from attending and participating in the holy sacraments that is paining Christ.

Children grow into maturity through activities like sports and games. Playing is a must for a child to grow into a complete human being. It gives the child various experiences like making friendship, breaking friendship, winning, losing, working in groups, working as a team, getting alienated from a group, joining hands to form a team etc.

These are reflections of life and these happen in real life also as one grows. It is through these childhood activities that children realize their innate strengths, weaknesses and USP and learn to observe rules, remain within the boundaries, to have aims, strive to win, adjust with others, appreciate others, reconcile with others etc. Christ is certainly pained to see that the children are glued to TV/Video/Computers and they do not go out and play, which is a must for growing as good human beings.

Children grow as normal human beings by doing their household chores themselves. Eating food without hard work is sin. Washing clothes, cleaning the house, doing gardening, helping in the kitchen, hosting and taking care of guests, buying household goods and groceries, keeping the account of money being handled... all these make the child grow into a mature human being.

Willingness and patience to do work, whether a boy or a girl, is a must in one's growth as a mature human being. Many highly qualified professionals are impatient and frustrated and fail in their married life, mainly because they pursued only studies and were devoid of the above normal basic things of life in their childhood.

In the Bible we have references of Jesus helping his father in his carpentry work. Christ is pained that children are reared up without involving them in the day-to-day household chores and responsibilities.

We grow into human beings through relationships. We imbibe human qualities from our friends and relatives. It is not easy to maintain relationships. But such relationships give us a lot of strength and courage.

Mary's journey -- taking Jesus to her relatives, traveling through the rough desert and hilly terrain -- should be a challenge for us. If we consider our relatives and friends as a hindrance and not up to our standard and remain away from them, we are certainly moving towards isolation. The main reason for today's increased psychological problems is the absence of good healthy relationships. It is through good relationships that we grow as good human beings.

Jesus always says: "Let the Children come to me". It is His pain through all the ages that children are not allowed to go to Him. Jesus is concerned that the children should grow enriched in divinity and humanity. His pain is for all those children who remain at the back of the church, instead of being in the front, the children who do not attend the sacraments of wedding/baptism but attend only receptions and parties, children who are addicted to SMS, e-mail, chatting and do not read the word of God or learn by heart the verses, children who are smart and who excel in studies but do not share any household work and responsibilities, children who are isolated from their relatives and friends and drifts tragically into solitude and frustration.

When we take the pain of Jesus as our pain, we will grow in Christ. Let us revive the child in us and also renew our children. Change is must and is most needed.
---
The writer is Vicar, Mar Thoma Church, Kuwait. The article, which originally appeared in Malayalam in the Sabha Tharaka, was translated into English by Elizebath Philip, a member of St. James Mar Thoma Church, New Delhi.
 
   
   
Right to buy and burn
  By Terry Mattingly  
  THE deaths of the 10 International Assistance Mission medical workers inspired headlines that were both shocking and numbingly familiar, since these are dangerous times for believers whose convictions steer them into Afghanistan.

A Taliban blandly leader told the press: "They were Christian missionaries and we killed them all."

If the gunmen had only waited a few weeks, they could have claimed that their victims were linked to a powerful global conspiracy to burn Korans.

That's the kind of statement that the head of the Southern Baptist Convention's Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission was worried about when he -- with countless other evangelicals -- urged the Rev. Terry Jones to cancel his "International Burn a Koran Day" event on Sept. 11. The leader of the tiny Dove World Outreach Center in Gainesville, Fla., did precisely that, but not before forcing religious and political leaders to wrestle with agonizing First Amendment issues.

"The behaviour of this church is not Christian. I cannot imagine Christ burning any religious texts," argued the Rev. Richard Land, in an online Washington Post forum. "This behavior is unfortunately one of the prices we pay for living in a free society with freedom of speech and freedom of expression, even when it is odious and reprehensible."

A protest of this kind would "besmirch the reputation of our Savior, and that makes it blasphemy," he said. The whole idea was "appalling, disgusting and brainless."

The bonfire would have made life more dangerous for missionaries, human-rights activists, diplomats and American soldiers. Those flames also would have made life much more dangerous for Christian converts and members of other religious minorities in predominantly Muslim lands.

Nevertheless, these clergy and politicos had to wrestle with the fact that Jones had every right to buy copies of the Koran and, after planning a fire small enough to wink at local laws, strike a match.

After all, this would, have been another act of painful symbolic speech.

Did the American Nazis have a constitutional right to march in Skokie, Ill., a Chicago suburb that was home to numerous Holocaust survivors? Yes, and demonstrators in the Reagan White House era burned the American flag. Muslims overseas have burned copies of the novel, "The Satanic Verses," by Salman Rushdie, and Bibles, too.

How many times have followers of the Rev. Fred Phelps of Topeka, Kan., waved their lurid signs -- "God Hates the U.S.A." is one of the mildest -- at funerals for soldiers killed in Iraq and Afghanistan? On Sept. 11, the Westboro Baptist Church crew burned a Koran and an American flag at the same time. For once, most journalists elected to look the other way.

In the case of Jones and his church in Gainesville, the Council on American-Islamic Relations decided that the timing of his Koran travesty was simply too hot to ignore. Even though the group regularly ignores the videos that it receives of people burning, shooting or ripping apart Islam's holy book, CAIR decided to issue a July 19 press release announcing its own protest of "International Burn a Koran Day." The group handed out free copies of the Koran.

The word was officially out and the media storm kept growing as angry reactions -- from Arab streets to the White House -- rolled into the world's newsrooms.

Lost in the din were the quiet, measured words of many religious leaders who tried to walk a knife's edge of logic in their public statements.

For starters, they had to note the painful fact that the Dove World Outreach Center was an independent Pentecostal congregation and its members were responsible to no higher religious authority than their own pastor. Thus, there was no one who could stop this event, other than public officials who, in order to do so, would have had to trample the rights of Jones and his flock.

The bottom line: Blasphemy is not illegal in the United States of America.

As the clock ticked down, Land stressed that the "only thing more dangerous than what this pastor is doing would be to allow the government to interfere. This would set a terrible precedent and would diminish all our First Amendment rights. The best way to combat this is to exercise our free speech right to condemn what he is doing in the simplest way and most direct terms."
 
   
   
Witnessing Christ in a Buddhist country
  By Nou Achhekvichetra  
  By Nou Achhekvichetra, Phnom Penh

Nou Achhekvichetra, a Catholic youth leader, was one of 350 young Cambodians who attended the recent National Youth Synod in Battambang.

In this commentary, he talks about the meeting and the challenges Cambodian Catholics face in witnessing their faith in a predominantly Buddhist country.

Achhekvichetra, who is in his early 20s, is coordinator of the youth commission of Phnom Penh apostolic vicariate.
---
I am the Witness of Jesus Christ in Society was the theme of the National Youth Synod held Aug. 23-27. This was the fourth time the synod, which is held every three years, has been organized.

It was a good opportunity for young Cambodian Catholics across the country to meet one another.

It was really awesome to see young Catholics make a commitment and say they are ready to be "a witness of Jesus Christ in society."

We want to strengthen the faith of our young Catholics and those who are studying catechism. We know that nowadays young people are easily lured by materialism and influenced by the cultures and customs of other countries.

Sometimes Catholics don't go to church. Some go to church out of duty but they don't know why they go for Mass every Sunday. We have to understand and appreciate our faith better if we are to be the "light" of the world.

For several days, 350 youths shared their experiences and discussed how to be witnesses for Jesus Christ in society.

This is not easy because Cambodia is a Buddhist country. There are only about 20,000 Catholics in a population of more than 14 million.

In every difficult situation, we have Christ as our model and our salvation. It is with faith that we believe he gives us the Holy Spirit to accompany us and protect us. So then why should we fear?

To be a witness for Christ does not mean advertising him on radio, television or in newspapers. We have to do it through our actions. We must not only proclaim Christ but we must also love others as we love ourselves, attend Mass and pray always.

Synod participants talked about being the "salt" and "light" of the world. Christ's light is always with us but we have to be aware of this reality.

Sometimes we think we are useless but Jesus tells us we are children of God. So we must not be afraid, regardless of whether we are poor, rich, healthy or ugly. Our lives are important.

We must manifest the "salt" and "light' in us by caring for the people around us, especially the poor.

Finally to be witnesses of Christ, we have to be united.

The Church in Cambodia is divided into ethnic Khmer and Vietnamese Catholics and sometimes there are tensions. But faith is not divisive.

If we want to say that we believe in Jesus Christ, we have to love each other.

To proclaim the good news is not only talking about it but living it out because I am sure that those who want to know about Christ will be looking at our actions closely.
 
   
   
Hesitant father, willing son
  By Anonymous  
  EVERY Sunday afternoon, after the morning service at the church, the Pastor and his eleven year old son would go out into their town and hand out Gospel Tracts.

This particular Sunday afternoon, as it came time for the Pastor and his son to go to the streets with their tracts, it was very cold outside, as well as pouring rain.

The boy bundled up in his warmest and driest clothes and said, 'OK, dad, I'm ready.'

His Pastor-dad asked, 'Ready for what?'

'Dad, it's time we gather our tracts together and go out.'

Dad responds, 'Son, it's very cold outside and it's pouring rain.'

The boy gives his dad a surprised look, asking, 'But Dad, aren't people still going to Hell, even though it's raining?'

Dad answers, 'Son, I am not going out in this weather.'

Despondently, the boy asks, 'Dad, can I go? Please?'

His father hesitated for a moment then said, 'Son, you can go. Here are the tracts, be careful son.'

'Thanks Dad!'

And with that, he was off and out into the rain. This eleven year old boy walked the streets of the town going door to door and handing everybody he met in the street a Gospel Tract .

After two hours of walking in the rain, he was soaking, bone-chilled wet and down to his VERY LAST TRACT. He stopped on a corner and looked for someone to hand a tract to, but the streets were totally deserted.

Then he turned toward the first home he saw and started up the sidewalk to the front door and rang the door bell. He rang the bell, but nobody answered.

He rang it again and again, but still no one answered. He waited but still no answer.

Finally, this eleven year old trooper turned to leave, but something stopped him.

Again, he turned to the door and rang the bell and knocked loudly on the door with his fist. He waited, something holding him there on the front porch!

He rang again and this time the door slowly opened.

Standing in the doorway was a very sad-looking elderly lady. She softly asked, 'What can I do for you, son?' With radiant eyes and a smile that lit up her world, this little boy said, 'Ma'am, I'm sorry if I disturbed you, but I just want to tell you that * JESUS REALLY DOES LOVE YOU * and I came to give you my very last Gospel Tract which will tell you all about JESUS and His great LOVE.'

With that, he handed her his last tract and turned to leave.

She called to him as he departed. 'Thank you, son! And God Bless You!'

Well, the following Sunday morning in church Pastor Dad was in the pulpit. As the service began, he asked, 'Does anybody have testimony or want to say anything?'

Slowly, in the back row of the church, an elderly lady stood to her feet.

As she began to speak, a look of glorious radiance came from her face, 'No one in this church knows me. I've never been here before. You see, before last Sunday I was not a Christian. My husband passed on some time ago, leaving me totally alone in this world. Last Sunday, being a particularly cold and rainy day, it was even more so in my heart that I came to the end of the line where I no longer had any hope or will to live.

So I took a rope and a chair and ascended the stairway into the attic of my home. I fastened the rope securely to a rafter in the roof, then stood on the chair and fastened the other end of the rope around my neck. Standing on that chair, so lonely and broken-hearted I was about to leap off, when suddenly the loud ringing of my doorbell downstairs startled me. I thought, 'I'll wait a minute, and whoever it is will go away.'

I waited and waited, but the ringing doorbell seemed to get louder and more insistent, and then the person ringing also started knocking loudly...

I thought to myself again, 'Who on earth could this be? Nobody ever rings my bell or comes to see me.' I loosened the rope from my neck and started for the front door, all the while the bell rang louder and louder.

When I opened the door and looked I could hardly believe my eyes, for there on my front porch was the most radiant and angelic little boy I had ever seen in my life. His SMILE, oh, I could never describe it to you!

The words that came from his mouth caused my heart that had long been dead, TO LEAP TO LIFE as he exclaimed with a cherub-like voice, 'Ma'am, I just came to tell you that JESUS REALLY DOES LOVE YOU.' Then he gave me this Gospel Tract that I now hold in my hand.

As the little angel disappeared back out into the cold and rain, I closed my door and read slowly every word of this Gospel Tract. Then I went up to my attic to get my rope and chair. I wouldn't need them anymore.

You see-- I am now a Happy Child of the KING. Since the address of your church was on the back of this Gospel Tract, I have come here to personally say THANK YOU to God's little angel who came just in the nick of time and by so doing, spared my soul from an eternity in hell.'

There was not a dry eye in the church. And as shouts of praise and honour to THE KING resounded off the very rafters of the building, Pastor Dad descended from the pulpit to the front pew where the little angel was seated..

He took his son in his arms and sobbed uncontrollably.

Probably no church has had a more glorious moment, and probably this universe has never seen a Papa that was more filled with love & honour for his son... Except for One.
 
   
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
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