Syrian Christians of Kerala origin have taken over an ancient church in England in the latest example of Indian Christians forming their own sub-cultures where they sing and pray in Hindi, Gujarati, Malayalam, Tamil and Punjabi to the accompaniment of ‘dhol’ and other instruments.
Amidst a wider trend of dwindling church attendance in Britain, immigrants have been boosting congregations across the country. Several priests from India have also taken over parishes due to shortage of priests.
In Preston, Lancashire, the Syro-Malabar Christian community has taken over the St Ignatius RC Church, which was closed by the local diocese in October last year. Some residents have protested to the Vatican that they now feel excluded because services are held in Malayalam.
Parishioner Moira Cardwell, 76, told the Daily Mail: “This church was paid for by the contributions of this congregation and their ancestors. For us not to be allowed to use it after all these years is disgusting. They say we’re still welcome at their Mass but it’s very difficult when it’s in another language”.
Many members of the Kerala community in Preston are employed in local hospitals. There have been reports that Indian immigrants in London and elsewhere have formed their own churches because they felt unwelcome in mainstream churches.
Reverend Billing from the Catholic Diocese of Lancaster said that after the Syro-Malabar Church took over, attendance had swelled: “This is a church which requires £1 million spending on it just to fix the roof alone. With the best will in the world, that is something that its former parishioners… could not hope to assist with”.
Father Mathew Jacob Choorapoikayil, the new priest of the church, said he was sad that the dispute had divided the community: “I don’t want any conflict but I cannot do anything about the situation…Everyone is welcome at our services and maybe one day they will be in English. We have a lot of young members who were born here and English is their first language.”