Delhi, India., Dec. 11 - A group of parishioners in Goregaon who rebelled against the Church of North India (CNI) and set up their own independent church have been ordered by the City Civil Court to allow clergymen from CNI to conduct prayers there.
The dispute over the ownership of St John’s Church led to a scuffle between the rebels and the group loyal to the bishop of CNI.
On October 5, Sunday services at the church were disrupted when the clergy were allegedly not allowed to enter the church and the breakaway members insisted on conducting prayers themselves.
Police had to be called in to protect the worshippers. No prayers were conducted at the church for two weeks after the dispute, said church member M. Samuel.
On Thursday, Judge R S Dalvi of the City Civil Court ordered the independent group to hand over the church’s keys to CNI officials. The rebel group said they would appeal against the court order in a higher court.
Established in 1976, the church serves around 200 Tamil-speaking families in Malad and Goregaon. The parishioners had pooled money to build the church on municipal land. Meanwhile, the bishop of CNI, an Anglican denomination, sent priests to conduct prayers at the church. This arrangement worked fine until April 2003 when the Bombay Diocesan Trust Association, the CNI body which controls CNI church properties, suspended the Goregaon church’s committee and sought to take charge of the church’s administration.
"The suspended group had refused to send their weekly collections to the bishop as is the custom. They said it was their money and the bishop had no claim to it," said Reverend Anand Maharajan of the bishop’s office.
The suspended members grouped together independently and approached the Charity Commissioner for official registration of the group. The group said they comprise nearly 100 families, but the bishop’s office said the group consisted of around 15 families.
The group has said since the church was built with money contributed by the parishioners, the CNI headquarters should not claim the church as its property. When the group prevented CNI priests from conducting prayers, the bishop approached the City Civil Court for an injunction. But the court ordered them to surrender the church to the CNI headquarters.
"We built the church with our hard-earned money. Now they want to take over the property," said an angry woman parishioner from Teen Dongri, Goregaon. The independent group had even appointed their own priest.
Yesterday, when a small group of members loyal to the bishop held prayers at the church, the rival group held prayers simultaneously at a house next door. The rebels refused to join prayers at the church.
"We will not pray at the church. They have grabbed it from us," said one member who did not want to be named.