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ICSA Golden jubilee celebration ICSA Golden jubilee celebration
by Dr Elsa Lycias Joel
2019-09-29 09:08:01
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Inter-Church Service Association’s golden jubilee celebration was all about celebrating 50 years of fine minds and improving lives. Constituted in 1969 as an autonomous service institute ICSA is affiliated to the National Council of Churches in India (NCCI), a member of the board of Theological Education/ Senate of Serampore College (BTE/SS), OIKOCREDIT, the Netherlands and WACC-Canada.

Ushered in with friendly smiles and greetings, the morning of September 18th at ICSA, Egmore was pleasant. With the board meeting still on, I chose to while away a few minutes inside the library that looked so welcoming.  Books on life, ethical living, and inspiring lives in quite a few languages conveyed ICSA’s definition of life and the way the books were categorically arranged by Mrs. Hepsie Premkumar couldn’t hide her passion to connect people with the information they seek. Inside the seminar hall, exchange of pleasantries between board members, faculty, alumni, students, invitees and special guests was more than just an acknowledgement of belonging with one another.  The peace and quiet of the hall complemented the aura of Rt. Rev. Dr. Mathews Mar Makarios Thirumeni who greeted everyone in his vicinity with a kind word and a blessing.  

icsa_400Nibbling on the served snacks, I watched the ICSA staff coordinating the entire process that led to the much awaited lecture on Integral Spirituality by Dr. Ch. Vasantha Rao. Creating a reservoir of good feeling was Dr. Moses .P. Manohar with an energetic yet charming disposition. Having succeeded five accomplished directors, Dr. Moses aware of his own strengths had also taken his lessons on  how best to implement his decision and its timing successfully since 1998 after his stint as Program officer of ICSA’s Church and Society Concerns Unit from 1989-1993. He seemed to be genuinely interested in his guests, benefactors and beneficiaries that he greeted almost everyone present personally remembering names and details.

Leaders of educational institutions coming together as stewards of effective collaborations and integrated development with a hope to become the voice that is required to drive change also for the less privileged youth was evident. Considering the nature of the event, emcee Lilian Jasper, Principal of WCC-Chennai, set the tone from the beginning to the end. She embraced the task with much joy utilizing the time frame in an organized manner. Engaging and re-engaging the crowd that consisted of people belonging to different age groups and backgrounds, Dr. Lilian guided the audience so gently to what they should be focussing on. After the invocation by Dr. David Rajendran, Principal of TamilNadu Theological Seminary, Arasaradi and exchange of niceties between dignitaries on and off the dais and a worship song by Pastor Machongwang Chawang, Lazarus Daime, Eramchangneile Nriame and Kesebale Nriamehis, Dr. Ch. Vasantha Rao Principal of UTC, Bangalore, also a pastor, writer, singer and dancer all moulded in one, took on the stage with his unassuming yet confident self. 

The lecture started off with details on the whys and hows of this country and world being divided, his day to day life at UTC, the early morning bhajans in most Indian languages and how an understanding of the communication systems of folk culture of various states helps one blend with fellow beings. He insisted on why there is an increasing necessity to overcome the divisive tide constituted by the influence of certain sections of the society in the present time and to reaffirm the deeper aspects of human life rooted in culture. Listeners would have acquired a holistic perspective on the continuum of human action from life events, spirituality, festivities and rituals to a peaceful and harmonious society. According to Dr. Vasantha Rao, integral spirituality is something that should not stop anyone from being part of a community and sometimes a culture too because he/she belongs to a particular religion. In rapt attention did the participants listen to his experiences at Haridwar. In a pluralistic country as ours, don’t we often see religions harnessing deep emotions which also take destructive forms when provoked by divisive elements?

Throughout his lecture, Dr. Vasantha Rao insisted that all must draw on their respective faiths to bring about reconciliation and understanding, the key to religious harmony. Listening to the pilgrims open-mindedly and with due respect had helped him acknowledge differences but instilled hope to create a better world on shared values and ethics. Honest, sensitive and straightforward conversations with ascetics exposed him to a different yet divine world of beliefs and convictions. Looks of disapproval I noticed when the speaker admitted while at Haridwar he lived on prasada. Enthusiastic smiles I noticed on many faces when Dr. Rao said the pilgrims understood his words ‘Sarva papa pariharao, raktha prokshanam thath raktham, paramthemena punya dana yagam (God would give a holy sacrifice in which holy blood would be shed for the remission of all sins.)” in the context of the holy dip in Ganges.  

Having secured a doctorate in theology from Germany, having shepherded many congregations, was principal of Andhra Christian Theological College (ACTC), as a Presbyter-in-charge of CSI Christ Church, Lalaguda (English Service) in Secunderabad in and at present as Principal UTC, Bangalore, this gentleman strongly believes that all of us have a great deal to learn from one another to enrich ourselves without undermining our identities. Rapport building with the audience and retaining their attention seemed to be Dr. Vasantha Rao’s forte. Halfway through the lecture, a snippet of a Manipuri worship song he sang cheered up a handful of Manipuris and fascinated the rest as they found him to be a polyglot.

Given the ease with which he connected with people, it seemed to me that the speaker didn’t study any language methodically but he ‘picked them up’. An intriguing lecture gave way to an open discussion. Until then, at least a few would never have wondered how many contradictory thoughts go through a mind on encountering a new perception, how strongly does feelings oppose the beliefs instilled in us as we tend to obey the letter of the law but not the spirit and how we ought to compartmentalize faith, knowledge, practices and emotions to live harmoniously in a multi-religious and multi-cultural country like ours.

Passionate exchange of opinions and suggestions ensued which was moderated by the speaker thereby enabling the audience to discover and accept their contradictions. Dr. Susheel Tharien, Trustee of Christian Fellowship Hospital that has been serving the society since 1955 by heeding the ‘Macedonian call’ said a closing prayer motivating one and all to know spirituality cannot be a cause for crisis but a divine revelation for love and unity.  Relishing the sumptuous lunch, I introspected if it’s possible for each one of us to renounce our oxymoronic self and exercise our respective faith on a day to day basis to promote harmony and global peace.

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