ABOUT OUR HISTORY It is important for all of us to know our roots. The new members of our church may have little knowledge about the history of our church.
The vessel God used to pioneer the First Assembly of God Church in the state of Karnataka was an American missionary named Miss Constance Swinfen Eady who had done some remarkable pioneering ministry in Chennai, Cannonore, and other places in South India before she came to Bangalore.
In 1935 she started the first meeting in Bangalore with about 10 people in the Union Hall on Kensington Road. As the work grew gradually, the church was moved to the present location in 1947. Between 35 and 50 people attended the English service. The members were mostly from the Anglo-Indian community at that time. Miss Eady also conducted the Tamil service with the help of Pastor M. V. Lamech, whom she drafted into her evangelism team to work in Krishnagiri and other places to reach the Tamils. Later Pastor Lamech moved his Tamil congregation to a nearby building on Miller’s Road and finally bought a property and built the Tamil church in William’s Town, which is known today as “Suzanne Memorial Church”.
In 1947 a missionary couple, Mrs. and Mr. Cecil M. Good, came from the United States to get involved in the work. Miss Eady recognized their calling to the pastoral ministry and handed the work of the English congregation to them. It was Pastor Good who took the initiative for the purchase of the land from the McDermotts and constructed the church building at #9 Cockburn Road (presently #15 Cockburn Road). The value of the property at that time was Rs. 40,000. After establishing the work and setting things in order, the Goods returned to the United States in 1952.
1951 was a special landmark in the history of the English church. That was the year when Southern Asia Bible Institute (now Southern Asia Bible College) was started and began to function from the same premises. More buildings were constructed for the Bible Institute to accommodate the students and some teachers on the campus. The worship hall doubled during the weekdays as a class room and student chapel. The congregation used the same facility on Wednesdays and Sundays for their services.
Rev. Good was successful in organizing the church and strengthening the work of the young people. The first Indian family to join the church as members was the family of Bro. Shuddhappa. Miss Josephine Spina was instrumental in giving form and content to the youth wing of the church- The Christ’s Ambassadors- and encouraged the youth leaders to lead the CAs in spiritual matters. Bros. Obadiah Shuddhappa, Elijah Shuddhappa, Joseph Thangaraj and others were very active in the Sunday School and youth ministries of the church. Bro. Obadiah served as the president of the Christ Ambassadors from 1956-58 and Miss. Barbara McDermott served as the secretary. The theme chorus of the Christ’s Ambassadors: “We are Christ’s Ambassadors and our colors we must unfurl”.
When the Goods returned to the States in 1952, Pastor Robert Rennie, who was serving as assistant pastor under Pastor Good, served as pastor for a year (1952-53). When he left in 1953, Rev. Hine Butler served as the pastor for about three years, along with his teaching responsibility at SABI.
Between 1953 and 1960, the principals of Southern Asia Bible College were of great blessing to the church. The services of Rev. Carl Butler, Rev. Carl Malz and Rev. Carl Holleman cannot be forgotten. They either served as senior pastors or interim pastors. The regular Sunday evening evangelistic messages of Rev. Carl Butler, based on Romans attracted many outsiders including students of United Theological College, Bangalore. In 1960 Rev. Kenneth Weigel and Mrs. Esther Weigel helped as interim pastors. Rev. Weigel was the director of the Home Study Division of SABC (later called ICI). Mrs. Esther Weigel, an excellent pianist helped in the area of music and Sunday School ministry. Several members of the church during this period were from the Anglo- Indian community. They included the Jones, the Philips, Rev. Clinton V. Newman (Registrar and teacher at SABC, and grandfather of Sis. Esther Ellis) and family, the McDermotts, the Flanigans, the families of Mrs. Celine Raj, Mrs. Ella Duckworth and several others.
After having several pastors who served as short term pastors, the “Cockburn Road church” or the “English A.G. church” had the privilege of getting the services of a long term, full time pastor when Rev. Ovid A Dillingham and family moved to Bangalore from North India. They served for 16 years (1961- 1977). Rev. and Mrs. Dillingham, with their pastoral calling and commitment, served the church with distinction. God used them to initiate new things and effect several changes which produced new vitality and growth for the church. All the departments of the church- the Sunday School, the CA, the Choir, and the Outreach Ministry- got a new impetus for growth and expansion. Some of the old timers may still remember the “Living Christmas Tree”, a Christmas Cantata, organized and conducted on the premises of the church from 1967- 1969, which attracted many outsider to the church compound. The Dillinghams also started the Day School in 1971, which grew from the nursery class to Std. VIII, when it was closed down in 2005 . The church building also got a facelift during the ministry of the Dillinghams. Several members of the church still remember with gratitude the unselfish services they rendered at the First Assembly and the Central District of the South India Assemblies of God.
When the Dillinghams left in 1976, Dr. Benjamin Shinde, professor and Registrar of SABC was appointed as the pastor of the church while he continued to discharge his responsibilities at the College. Dr. Shinde’s period of service at the church was significant as it marked the transition from missionary pastors to national pastors.
Dr. Shinde laboured faithfully as the senior pastor until he was called home in September 1982. In 1981 when Pastor Shinde and family took leave from the church to go to the United Stated for a year, Dr. Emmanuel James, professor at SABC, took care of the services and other spiritual matters of the church. The Board of elders managed other matters. Pastor Seelan Mathiaparanam, a native of Sri Lanka and alumnus of SABC served as pastor from August 1983 to September 1984.
In 1984 Pastor Hiren Sarkar, a graduate of SABC, became the senior pastor of the church. He served for 21 years. His period of ministry was the longest in the history of the First Assembly. During Pastor Hiren’s ministry several others served on the pastoral staff at different periods. They include Mathew Daniel (assistant pastor), Samuel Jayaraj (assistant and youth pastor 1997 – 2004), Mercy Balachandran (children’s pastor 1998 – 2009), K. Edelbert (Khasi pastor), Biren Nayak (Oriya pastor), Jyothikanth Sadhu (Hindi and Bengali pastor 2002 – 2004).
Pastor Sarkar, with his special training in counselling, was able to provide pastoral counseling to several members of the church and outsiders as the need arose. He and his wife Mary, were actively involved in the oversight of the various ministries of the church- Sunday School, Women’s Ministry, Outreach Ministry, and the Day School which had an enrollment of about 150 students.
The present senior pastor, Rev. Gavin Cunningham, was appointed and installed as senior pastor in July 2004, and has been serving in that position since then. Pastor’s wife, Amenla, was appointed as the Women’s and Youth Pastor in 2006. Pastor Gavin and the Pastoral Staff operate under the supervision and guidance of a Board consisting of Deacons and Elders. The different language groups that were started earlier either moved out for lack of space, or ceased to function because of other reasons. Instead, a Tamil service was started under the supervision of the senior pastor and presently Pastor James Peter is shepherding this flock. Under the leadership of the Pastor and the Pastoral Team the various ministries of the church have been revitalized.
The greatest excitement of the church right now is to see the completion of the Sanctuary. After worshipping in two rented places (Friend-in-Need Society and Maria Niketan) for nearly 3 years, the congregation was privileged to move back to #15 Cockburn Road and start the worship services in the basement of the church on April 10, 2009. The congregation moved worship services to the main sanctuary on December 11, 2009.
During the First Assembly’s six decades of colourful history, the church went through various phases and experiences- the labours of the pioneers, consolidations, spurts of growth, ups and downs, breaking aways, leadership crisis, and rejuvenation. However, through it all the Lord of the church watched over this congregation and brought it to this point in time. Over the years the Lord used many different vessels- pastors and lay people- to build up the church. Some of the members of the church who joined the church in the 1950s rendered commendable services for the church in the Sunday School Department (Rev. John Shaw, Bro. Joseph Thangaraj), and CA Department (Bro. Obadiah). We are grateful for everyone whom God used to accomplish His purpose.
The leadership and congregation of the First Assembly are grateful to the General Council of the Assemblies of God, Springfield, MO. USA, for the support and encouragement we have received from the beginning till today. It was the General Council which provided the funds for the purchase of the property and the construction of the church and other buildings. All the DFM (presently called the Assemblies of God Worldwide Missions) personnel, who served in the First Assembly, SABC and ICI, contributed significantly towards the growth and development of the church. When the leadership of the church was going through the process of taking the decision to demolish the existing buildings and rebuild the church complex, the General Council once again came to our rescue by granting us the needed power of attorney and other assistance to start the construction. Dr. Jerry Parsley, Dr. David Grant and Rev. Mark Daniels whole-heartedly endorsed our project and encouraged us to see our dream come true. We in turn express our deep appreciation and gratitude to the General Council and the AGWM personnel for this vibrant partnership in the Gospel.
In concluding this brief historical sketch, we would like to assert that all that happened in and through the First Assembly happened because of God. It is He who used various people and means to accomplish His plan. What apostle Paul told the Corinthian church is a universal truth which is applicable to every congregation.
“I planted the seed, Apollos watered it; but God made it grow. So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God who makes things grow.” – (1 Cor. 3:6, 7)