St Thomas’ Indian Orthodox Church London – A Decade of Life and Worship (2007– 2017)
The Journey from Rectory Lane to St Agnells Lane
Glory be to the Triune God! It has been a very blessed journey indeed. This brief write-up encompasses a few momentous glimpses of the path trodden by our Church, from Rectory Lane in Edgware to St Agnells Lane, Hemel Hempstead.
During the late 1990s and early 2000s, there were flocks of people migrating from India and the Middle East to the United Kingdom in pursuit of greener employment and living pastures. Prior to this period, the Indian Orthodox Church (IOC) had only one church and the worship took place at the St Gregorios’ IOC, which worshipped at the St Andrew-by-the-Wardrobe church in Blackfriars, London.
In 2005, our first and own church was consecrated in Brockley, South East London. In early 2006, some of the members living in North London and the vicinity, under the leadership of Dr P S Varghese, took an initiative to form a congregation in this area. They met with the Vicar of St Gregorios’ IOC, Rev Fr Abraham Thomas and submitted a request to the General Body of St Gregorios’ IOC to grant permission to conduct Holy Qurbana in the North London area. This was approved in view of the increasing number of people in this area. The first Holy Eucharist at the present place was celebrated on March 19th, 2006 by H.G. Geevargheese Mar Coorilos, the Metropolitan of the Bombay Diocese. We initially started with service once a month and by October 2006, we were having Holy Qurbana twice a week. An appeal was submitted on 15th October 2006 to the Diocesan Bishop to grant permission for a separate parish in the North London area.
A New Parish is Born
St Thomas’ Indian Orthodox Church, London was declared as a parish by the Diocesan Metropolitan, Late Lamented His Grace Dr Thomas Mar Makarios on the 1st of January, 2007 and Rev Fr George Joy was duly appointed as the Vicar of the church.
We were blessed to be able to hire the Edgware Parish Hall in Rectory Lane, Edgware in order to conduct worship on Sundays. Our parish was formed for the convenience of all the IOC members residing in the North London area and the vicinity. There were around 70 subscribing members during the initial phases of the Parish. Regular worship services were conducted every Sunday, during the Holy Week and on important Feast days. The morning prayers started at 9 am and the Holy Qurbana at 10 am. As this was a hired place, we prepared the Madbaha and the Church every Saturday evening for the evening prayers and for the Holy Qurbana on Sunday. The services were conducted mainly in Malayalam with one English service in a month. Our Vicar, Rev Fr George Joy compiled the English Qurbana liturgy book and taught us the hymns which we continue to use till this day. We had a very vibrant Sunday school following the Holy Qurbana every Sunday, in addition to the annual Orthodox Vacation Bible School. We also had regular Youth, Women’s Fellowship and prayer meetings
The Journey continues…
The Property Committee formed in 2007 focussed on raising some funds towards the purchase of a church property. It raised a few thousand pounds towards this cause. In 2008, the general body elected a Church Development Committee (CDC) to explore the feasibility of acquiring a place of worship. Subsequently, several D1 properties were viewed during the ensuing months.
An Advert that changed our history!
This local newspaper advertisement was spotted by Mrs Merin Tibu. At the time, a few church properties were placed on sale in Hemel Hempstead, by the Methodist Church as they were planning to merge all their churches in Hemel Hempstead to construct a modern church. Mr Shelvin Kuriakose made some preliminary enquiries and discovered that there was already an offer of £ 360,000 on the property and the only way we could secure the purchase was by placing an offer of £ 365,000. Our Vicar, Rev Fr George Joy, on behalf of the church managing committee placed an offer of £ 365,000 on the closing date of the sale, 21st January, 2011. By the Grace of God, our offer was accepted and we were fortunate to acquire the church property.
On 6th February 2011, our Church General body deliberated on purchasing this church property and unanimously agreed to go ahead with raising sufficient funds for completing the purchase. Owing to the tireless efforts of our beloved Joy Achen and our church members, we were able to raise sufficient funds through donations, personal loans and a mortgage. It took nearly 6 months to complete the purchase.
We acquired the property in July 2011. Once the purchase was completed, a lot of work was put in by several of our members and especially Mr C K John who brought in Mr Paul Rudd, Design Associates, Architect Consultants from Southend-on-Sea, who drew the design of our current church and submitted it for approval to the local council. Over a period of one year, we were steadily and surely guided by our Lord towards the renovation and completion of the church building. We are grateful to our builder, Mr Rakesh Siddhu (Tony) for completing our church building within the stipulated period of time. It was a challenging time for the entire church and several people, both our church members and others from various walks of life prayed for and donated generously towards the successful completion of our church building project. The parish managing committee under the leadership of Rev. Fr George Joy, Dr Sen Kallumpuram, our Honorary Secretary and Mr Shibu Paul, our Honorary Treasurer during this period managed the renovation project and its finances efficiently, so that we could complete the project within our means.
Finally, at St Agnells Lane
The Divine Liturgy of Consecration was conducted on Friday, 31 August and Saturday 01, September, 2012. The Consecration ceremony was led by our Diocesan Metropolitan (UK, Europe and Africa) H. G Dr Mathews Mar Thimothios. The first part of the Liturgy, the Service of laying the Foundation Stone of the Altar was conducted on Friday evening at 6.30 pm after the evening prayer. Approximately, 200 people attended the function. The programme ended with the fellowship dinner.
The second part of the Liturgy began at 9.00 am on Saturday which was followed by the celebration of the Divine Eucharist and a public meeting. The service was led by the Diocesan Metropolitan assisted by HG Abba Seraphim (British Orthodox Church), and priests from our church and other Oriental Orthodox churches. We express our gratitude to all the church dignitaries for their presence and blessings.
Following the consecration, a public meeting was held at the church. The Diocesan Metropolitan presided over the function and spoke his words of appreciation. The dignitaries who were present and tendered felicitations include Mr Mike Penning, the MP for Hemel Hempstead and the Minister of Transport, Government of UK, Mrs. Colette Wyatt-Lowe, the local Councillor, Dacorum Council, Bishop Abba Seraphim, Rev Dr Roger Paul, National Ecumenical Officer of the Church of England, Rev Fr Mina Barsaum representing HG Angelos of the Coptic Orthodox Church, Rev Michael Clark, Vicar of St Margaret’s Church of England Church, Edgware, Rev V G Geevarghese, representing the Mar Thoma church, and Rev Fr Abraham Thomas, Vicar of St Gregorios’ IOC. Mementos and awards were presented to the following people for dedicated and keen service to the church in its renovation: Mr Rakhesh Siddhu and his two assistants Mr Nirmal Kumar and Mr Lali Singh for their dedication in building the church, Mr Abraham Mathew for his devoted and timely technical assistance, Mr Jacob Alexander for designing the sanctuary and constructing the Altar, Mrs Merin Tibu for locating the property and Mr Paul Rudd, our architect for his varied services in the construction of the church.
The keys of the church were handed over to the Diocesan Metropolitan to confirm that this parish is a part of the Malankara (Indian) Orthodox Church and as a symbol of allegiance and loyalty to the authorities of the Malankara Church, the Catholicos and Malankara Metropolitan and the college of Bishops. The Vicar welcomed the dignitaries and the gathering and the Honorary secretary expressed the vote of thanks.
Over 500 people graced this historic occasion. These included our parishioners, members of our sister parishes, friends and well-wishers. The fellowship meal was served after the function. We thank our Father for His steadfast love throughout our journey and He continues to bestow his mercy and love upon us.
We express our sincere gratitude to all who helped us at various stages leading to the fruition of our project; by providing us with financial support and time, by donating various items generously needed for the church, by offering technical advice, by helping through manual work, by showing solidarity with us through prayer and presence.