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News of our work India & Bangladesh May - October 2007

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From Delhi to Kolkata

Father Ian Weathrall OBE, Head of the Brotherhood of the Ascended Christ in Delhi, is a member of the Oxford Mission Trust Association. He travels to Kolkata regularly for meetings of the Trust, at which policy is decided for OM Behala, and describes his recent visit:

I have arrived in Kolkata for a meeting of the Oxford Mission Trust Association. As usual I travelled from Delhi on one of the splendid ‘Rajdhani’ express trains which connect Delhi with most of India’s cities from Amritsar to Dibugarh, and from Kalka to Chennai (formerly Madras) or to Trivandrum, via the new Kankan railway running along the west coast through Goa.

Sadly, those of you who remember the ‘1 up and 2 down Howrah-Delhi-Kalka Mail’ will find that this once proud train has been downgraded in precedence to these new, sleek air-conditioned expresses: two a day from Delhi, one to Howrah and one to Sealdah. These cover the journey in 17 hours, compared with 24 by the Mail: timing little changed from that of 1945, when I travelled during my Army days.

Arriving in Kolkata, the visitor finds a city anxious to establish her commercial position, after years of difficulty and problems associated with political events of past years. It is a ‘City of Hope’. New high-rise flats are being constructed in various parts of the city, while a new township is appearing at Salt Lake lying to the east of the expressway to Dum Dum airport. To attract interest and custom, an enterprising builder in Alipore erected a large hoarding bearing the message, “You might think you were crazy to stay in Kolkata, but you would be nuts to stay elsewhere!”

Yet he was so right! Despite so many problems, the citizens of Kolkata possess a strong civic sense of belonging to a strong and vibrant Bengali city and culture, to which much affection and respect are given, even to their Zoo! When this venerable institution celebrated its centenary two years ago or more, a placard was tied over the main entrance which read, “Many happy returns to our dear old Zoo”. It was a token of genuine family affection, the like of which could never be seen in Delhi; a city with its own charms, but rather different from those of Delhi.

In this setting of change and development lies the Oxford Mission estate at Barisha, south of Behala on the Diamond Harbour Road. Since the days of the Brotherhood and Sisterhood of the Epiphany, the social work of the Communities has been continued by a Committee of Trustees through the present wise Administrator, Arijeet Roy, and his team. The Trustees, with the Bishop of Kolkata as their Chairman, meet at least four times a year. They maintain the ideals and values which inspired the vision of the Fathers and Sisters of old, while realising that the conditions surrounding the continuing ministry have changed enormously. Urban development has progressed far beyond Barisha, and even beyond the present tram terminus at Yoker. Much was expected from the members of the Brotherhood and Sisterhood in earlier days, and much was given in generous and selfless service, supported always by the prayers and gifts of friends overseas as well as from within India. The Trustees are endeavouring to follow this rich tradition.

At present I am Head of the Brotherhood of the Ascended Christ at Delhi, a community parallel, yet with subtle differences, to the former Brotherhood of the Epiphany. At Delhi, the members of the Brotherhood promise obedience to the Rule of Life rather than to the Superior of the Community. We work by consensus, the Head being the interpreter or spokesman to others. At present we have four full members, one in First Promises and one Probationer. Beside our ministries in city parishes our main work lies in the education and ministry to children in schools, a Night Shelter, and a Boys’ Home.

We learn from one another, and I have always felt encouraged when I travel to Howrah station to take the Delhi Rajdhani Express, back to our own city with all its distinctive joys and sorrows.

Please pray for us all.


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