Pune: Members of St Paul’s Malayalam Parish hold service outside closed doors of church

“Many of our members have been part of the church for over five decades and by keeping the church's doors closed, we are being barred from our constitutional rights to worship at a religious place,” said Joseph Eapen, trustee, St Paul's Malayalam Parish.

Members of St Paul’s Malayalam Parish held their church service outside the closed doors of All Saints’ Church, Khadki on Sunday. The All Saints’ Church English congregation has shut the doors till the issue regarding the exorbitant hike in share of running expenses contributed by the three congregations of the church — the All Saints’ Church English congregation, St Paul’s Malayalam Parish and the Marathi Parish — is resolved.

“Many of our members have been part of the church for over five decades and by keeping the church’s doors closed, we are being barred from our constitutional rights to worship at a religious place,” said Joseph Eapen, trustee, St Paul’s Malayalam Parish.

The letter dated November 13 by All Saints’ Church English congregation on the closure of the church reads, “In order to maintain peace at the church and avoid law and order situation due to complaints raised by St Paul’s Malayalam Parish, we shall be keeping the church closed till the problems are resolved as this is a private property.”

Eapen said that according to the General Land Register, the All Saints’ Church falls under the purview of the Ministry of Defence. “How can one call it private property when religious places are for the public to worship at?” he asked.

The issue at question of running expenses contributed by each congregation is inclusive of use of church for Sunday services for two hours an average of four times a month. Until the church closed due to the pandemic, Eapen said the annual contribution for their congregation was Rs 66,000, approximately Rs 5,550 per month.

“In their annual meeting earlier this April, the members of the All Saints’ Church English congregation increased the ‘user fee’ as they are calling it. From April, the charges were Rs 30,000 per month. Additionally, their letter said the amount is only for two hours of the Sunday church service, on first and third Sundays. In other words we are being asked to pay Rs 15,000 instead of around Rs 1,500 that we were paying before. For other church services like marriage, there is a fee of Rs 25,000 with a separate security deposit,” he said.

Earlier, each Sunday the All Saints’ Church saw three services – the All Saints Church English congregation in the morning followed by the service of St Paul’s Malayalam Parish and the Marathi Parish. The durations were specifically allotted to avoid overlap in services.

“Our two Sunday timings were given to the Marathi Parish after our secretary refused to pay the hiked fee. After we had an altercation with Marathi Parish members due to a clash in timings, we had to keep Khadki Police in confidence last week during the service …. The English congregation is trying to garner monopoly and evict us, it seems. Despite the church being on defence land, they have rented the space for commercial purposes in the past, which is not right in itself…,” said Chandy Thomas, treasurer of St Paul’s Malayalam Parish.

41-year-old Mathew Tharian said, “I have been coming to the church since I was a child. It has been over four decades now. Even the saplings the youth group planted have become tall trees in the church compound. I cannot begin to explain how out of sorts it makes me feel.”

Tharian Mathew, 82, one of the oldest members of the congregation, said, “It is disappointing that at a place of worship things have taken a bitter turn.”

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