First District Church of the Brethren in India Celebrates 100th Jilla Sabha

By Jay Wittmeyer

Photo by Jay Wittmeyer
M.M. Gameti (at right) posed for a picture with then-Annual Conference moderator David Steele, during Steele’s visit to the church in India. This picture originally was captioned, “Two moderators,” because at the time Gameti was serving as moderator of the First District Church of the Brethren in India.

Indian Brethren gathered in Valsad, Gujarat, for the church’s 100th Jilla Sabha (district conference). The two-day event began on May 13 with worship and the regular business of the denomination, while May 14 was dedicated to a full day of celebration that ran late into the evening. Attending on behalf of the Church of the Brethren was David Steele, moderator, and Jay Wittmeyer, executive director of Global Mission and Service.

The First District, under the leadership of Brethren missionary Wilbur Stover, held its first conference in 1901, and its 69th in 1970, when the First District (Gujarat) and the Second District (Maharashtra) joined five other communions to form the unified Church of North India. After an interim period, the First District Brethren resumed meeting as the First District Church of the Brethren and was recognized as such by the Church of the Brethren Annual Conference in 2003. The Second District, which only had four churches at the time of unification, has continued with CNI.

A significant matter for the 100th Jilla Sabha was the recognition of Ahwa into the Church of the Brethren denomination. The mission of Ahwa began in 1907 and its current church building was constructed in 1933. Located in the tribal hill region of Dang, the Ahwa congregation was formerly with the Church of North India but decided it was more suited to fellowship with the First District Church of the Brethren.

Photo by Jay Wittmeyer
Day of celebration for the First District Church of the Brethren began with this procession, some 1,000 strong, that paraded through the city.

Maganlal Gameti, now 101 years of age, was elected to serve as moderator of the First District, mainly as a means to honor his years of ministry. “I am not worried about taking on such a role at my age,” Brother Gameti said. “Many will give me whatever assistance I require.”

The day of celebration began with a 1,000-person parade through the city of Valsad that included a truck full of speakers for music and a horse-drawn carriage for the US guests. The parade stopped periodically for singing and dancing as it weaved its way through various parts of town, finishing at the Valsad church for an afternoon feast and worship service. The evening featured a historical slide show by Gabriel Jerome on a large outdoor screen, followed by fireworks and a cultural program on a large stage.

I reminded the community of the analogy Wilbur Stover often used to describe the Indian church. The church is like a Banyan tree, Stover would say. When he tried to plant a Banyan log in his front yard, people criticized him because it was not the monsoon season. “Even so,” Stover said, “with patience and careful watering, I can get the tree to grow.” The tree still stands in Valsad to this day.

With careful patience and watering, First District Church of the Brethren now reached its 100th annual meeting. Something to be celebrated.

— Jay Wittmeyer is executive director of Global Mission and Service for the Church of the Brethren.

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