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Church on a Thursday

Lindsay Houts Published: February 21, 2013

Here’s the church, here’s the steeple, open the door and see … almost no one? That’s what you get for going to church on a Thursday, I suppose.

Can you spot the tourist?
Can you spot the tourist?

I mentioned before that I’ve never traveled to a country where some denomination of Christianity wasn’t the predominate religion (my passport has stamps from Canada, Mexico, Australia, New Zealand, Poland, England, Ireland, Spain, Brazil, and now India).

There are temples all over India, and many Hindus even have small temples in their homes.  Learning about both the Sikhs and the Hindus (the major religions where we are) has been a large part of the cultural side of our exchange, and I’m better for it. I was interested, though, in seeing my faith in India. Like most of the world, I knew the name of at least one Indian Christian: Mother Teresa. I didn’t know too much more.

St. Thomas Church is the only church in Hisar, a city in Haryana, a state in northern India. The property manager (my best guess at his title) explained that they have about 150 families that attend services, but three different denominations use the building: Methodists, Roman Catholics, and the Church of North India (CNI). CNI is a unified church, a blend of several of the major protestant churches, the Episcopal church included.

Like all temples and the church we saw briefly in Moga, Punjab, you’re asked to remove your shoes before entering.

And with its wooden pews and stained glass, it looks like what you’d mostly expect a blend of a Catholic and a Protestant church to look like:

Most unique of all? The church has a graveyard. It was the first I’d seen in India because most Hindus and Sikhs opt for cremation. There were a lot (too many) infant graves, mostly dated from the 1800s. Our hosts seemed to associate burial and graveyards with Christianity, but I’ve always thought of it as nothing more than an option, and one that was separate from any religion.

Christians make up less than 3% of India’s population (though that still amounts to more than 20 million people). They’re found primarily in the southern parts of the country, where thanks to Portuguese influence, even enormous European-style cathedrals can be found. British-style churches arrived later when India was under the rule of the Crown. Many still stand today.

This church, like many in India, is filled to the brim on Christmas by people of all faiths. One of our hosts in Moga, two towns ago, was a Hindu man and a Christmas-churchgoer. When we asked why, he seemed genuinely confused. It’s Christmas, he explained. You go to church!