History of Gossner Evangelical Lutheran Church
Gossner Evangelical Lutheran Church in Chotanagpur and Assam, Ranchi


This great folk-church in the province of Chota Nagpur had its beginnings when four missionaries sent by the Gossner Missionary Society and prepared by Father Johannes Gossner, arrived in Calcutta in 1844 with instructions to find a mission field. When the new missionaries, who were chiefly farmers and artisans rather than theologians, came into contact with some street laborers of aboriginal stock (known as "Kols") they resolved to follow them to their native habitat in Chota Nagpur. Arriving in Ranchi in 1845 they established their base there and supported themselves by farming. After much initial frustration a few converts were made in 1850. Soon a mass movement among the Kols gathered momentum. Particularly after the Sepoy Mutiny (1857) the people began to embrace Christianity in increasing numbers, so that by 1900 a community of 100,000 had arisen.

Boys' and girls' boarding schools were established at Ranchi and elsewhere. A normal school, theological seminary, hospital, and leper asylum were added. Missionary work was begun among Kols people who migrated to the province of Assam. Work was carried on among ten language groups. The Church by 1984 had 336,524 baptized members. Despite rapid numerical growth the Gossner Church, formally organized in 1919, has been plagued by a succession of problems. The formation of schismatic churches among the Kols people by the Anglican SPG in 1869 and by Roman Catholics at the end of the century resulted in heavy losses to the Gossner Church.

Oppression by Muslim and Hindu rulers created additional hardship. Rivalry between the principal Kolarian tribes -- Mundas and Uraons--- has hindered complete unity in the Church. Finally, the interment of German missionaries in 1914 left the Church "orphaned" and without financial subsidy. Despite Anglican offers to assume financial responsibility, Indian Gossner leaders expressed their staunch desire to remain confessionally Lutheran. In 1919, through the good offices of the National Missionary Council of India, the Gossner Autonomous Evangelical Lutheran Church was formed and became heir to all mission property. An inter-denominational board of Trustees, of which an American Lutheran was executive secretary, temporarily administered its affairs. Lutherans in America promised "means and men" to maintain the field, and the National Lutheran Council sent subsidies. German missionaries were able to return in 1925, but their service is to an autonomous church. The Lutheran World Federation assisted support of Gossner institutions with grants. The spirit of independence is strong in the Church.

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