Our History

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A Brief History of the Good Shepherd Church

Established : 1894
Dedication of the First Church :
21st April 1901
Dedication of the Second Church :
14th April 1991

The article below gives a brief history of the Dharavi Good Shepherd Church, popularly known as Dharavi Nalla Meippan Aalayam. The article is an extract of the M.Th Project thesis by Rev. Ananda Maharajan, who has done an exhaustive and comprehensive research on the Tamil Churches in Mumbai. He is currently doing his PhD on the influence of the migrants from Tamil Nadu on the development of Tamil Churches in Mumbai. He is also the Presbyter-in-charge of the Good Shepherd Church.

The Beginning:
The present St. Paul's Church housed at the Christ Church in Byculla can be said to be the Mother of all Tamil churches in Mumbai (then known as Bombay) including the Tamil Methodist Church. (The Tamil Methodist Church was established at Parel on 1st April 1951 by few Tamil families which had separated from the mother church at Byculla).
The St. Paul's Church was established in 1863 at Kamathipura, an area in South Mumbai. The first Tamil Church structure was built in 1872 by the members themselves with their personal finances and without any external aid.

The Branch at Dharavi:
The branch church of the St. Paul's Church was started in Dharavi in 1894. The history of the Good Shepherd Church is a pleasant story.
In 1887 a Muslim gentleman named Adhamji Beerboy from Melapalayam ( a small township near Tirunelveli city) along with his friends began the first leather processing and tanning industry in Dharavi. In the very same year Panjukutti Mohammed Leppai from Melapalayam built the first masjid at the Dharavi Main Road at the very same place where it still exists.
In the Hindu-Muslim riots which took place in Mumbai as well as many places in India during 1892-93 affected this leather industry started by the Melapalayam Muslims, who it seems left the business, which was then carried out by the Hindus who had migrated from Tirunelveli district.

The Start - Seevalasamuthram CMS Christians:
About this time in 1893, Kader Khan Saheb from Nallur (Marai division - established 1834), the first  Christian convert from Islam in Tirunelveli district (He was baptized in 1864), brought about 15 - 20 Christians from the CMS (Christian Missionary Society) church in Seevalasamuthram village (established in 1872)  for working in and sustaining the leather industry in Dharavi. It is said that they arrived till Solapur in bullock-carts and then reached Bombay in the steam engine locomotive. These Christians from Seevalasamuthram lived in Dharavi and worked in the leather industry here.
It was for these Christians the SPG branch was started in Dharavi in 1894.Two persons played an important role in the development and nurturing of this branch church - Sir Larimer and Rev. St. J. Diego.
Sir Larimer was the then Collector of Mumbai. An Armenian by birth, he learnt the Tamil language and used to preach the Gospel among the non-Christian Tamil community since 1887. He played a major role in the purchasing of the land where the present Good Shepherd Church stands and also provided material aid to the Seevalasamuthram Christians in purchasing the land. Rev. St. J. Diego, the then Presbyter of the Byculla church, conducted the service for the new church under a tamarind tree.

How the Church got its name:
At this time, in 1897, the SPG society from England granted a donation of 270 pounds. With this aid and the offerings & donations from the Seevalasamuthram Christians a small church was built for the first time in 1901. The church was dedicated by the then Bishop of Mumbai Rt. Rev. James McArthur on 21st April 1901. Since that Sunday was celebrated as the Good Shepherd Sunday, the newly dedicated church was christened as the Good Shepherd Church.
Started in 1894 and the church structure built in 1901 by Seevalasamuthram Christians, the Church was maintained by these Christians themselves. The appreciation for establishing, building and maintaining the Church for 50 years thus rightly goes to the Christians from the Seevalasamuthram village. These people considered and maintained the new Church in the same way as the Church in their own village - St. Matthias Church.
Mr. S. Muthukan from Acchipperi who has been the Church Assistant and Treasurer for many years, recollects that when he came to Dharavi for the first time in August 1946, the maintenance and the daily work in the Church were carried out by these Seevalasamuthram Christians themselves. In the 1920's the migration of the people from Tirunelveli district to Mumbai increased. As a result the Church membership grew manifold.
From 1894 till 1976, the Church proceedings were conducted by the Presbyters from the Byculla church on a part-time basis. To know the list of Presbyters who have led the Church through the years' please go to the Presbyter's List link.

New Turning Point:
As said before from 1894 till 1976, the Dharavi church was presided over by the Presbyter's from the Byculla Church. In 1976, the Church at Dharavi got its first full time Priest in Rev. James Paul B.D. This was a new turning point in the history of Good Shepherd Church. It was through the hard work of Rev. James Paul & the succeeding priests and God's blessing, the church members grew manifolds. This growth in the church members caused a shortage of place in the church and led to piece-meal developments in the structure of the Church. It was also at this time, many other Christian associations and Churches grew in and around Mumbai.

The Church celebrates its Platinum Jubilee:
The church which was built on 21st April 1901, celebrated its Platinum Jubilee in 1976 in a grand manner. The Jubilee was celebrated on 24th & 25th April. The then Bishop of Mumbai, Rt. Rev. Dr. Donald M. Kennedy, D.D and the then Bishop of CSI Tirunelveli Diocese Rt. Rev. S. Daniel Abraham, B.D S.T.M were the honored Chief Guests.

The New Church - 14th April 1991 and the Centenary:
As years rolled by, Christians from over 300 villages in Tirunelveli district migrated and settled in Dharavi. These led to shortage of space in the church. This led to the demolition of the old structure and building of the new present structure. The construction work of the new church began in September 1990 during the tenure of Rt. Rev. Ananda Maharajan. The complete structure except the front porch of the church was built anew. The cost of the entire project was Rs. 27,30,000. The new church with a big front altar was dedicated on the Good Shepherd Sunday, 14th April 1991 by the then Bishop of Mumbai, Rt. Rev. Dr. Samuel Bright Joshua PhD amidst great joy, grandeur and fireworks. In the feast which followed the dedication ceremony some 9000 people took part in it. The feast and Dedication festival is being conducted since then every year on 14th April.
Later through the generous donation of the church children, the parapet and roof on both sides of the church was raised in 1994 - 96. The residence place for the Presbyter's was built in 1991 so that the church priest can stay with his family.

This is the brief yet exciting story of the oldest church in Dharavi. The church is now entering its 113th year.

Let all Praise, Power and Glory be to the Almighty and All Powerful Lord Jesus Christ who has bestowed His Grace and Mercy upon this Church through the years.

Hail the Good Shepherd Jesus !!
Long Live the Good Shepherd Church !!
Amen !!