Our Parish History

Abstract from the article “A Walk Down the memory Lane”

By John C. Chandy

As a tiny drop of rain or trickles of small streams forms to create a stream that when merged with other streams form the river that falls into the beautiful lake where the wonders of creation flourishes, like wise is the flow of Malayalees to one part of the world (Northern California) from their place of origin.  Even unknown of each others origin once joined becomes an amalgamation of old and new cultures. The unit very quickly and easily adapts to its environment.  One undeniable character of this body is its desire to foster its original cultures and values.  Malayalee Christians are not exempt from this.  We tend to seek and find friends and families of like beliefs and values.  As this group grows we further form into sub groups of the larger Christian Community.  Such is our history as the Mar Thoma Church of San Francisco Bay Area, formed with the union of Mar Thoma and CSI families of the Bay Area.

I am trying to narrate a history of the Mar Thoma Church of San Francisco Bay Area.  Every history has to have a starting point.  Mine starts from July 10th 1975.  Undeniably, there were Malayalee Christians in the Bay Area prior to this period, but there are no relevant recorded data of this period.  Further more the there were less than few families scattered in the Bay Area.

This insignificant tiny drop became part of the lake on July 10th 1975.  It was a turning point in my life.  My wife and I started our migrated life on San Jose California.  Along with her brother and sister-in-law (Nell & Annie Thomas).   We met several Malayalees during the course of the first year.  Need for worship and fellowship is part of every Malayalee Christian up bringing. In the absence of a Malayalee or Kerala Church, we all attended local English churches during this period.

During this period we were living in an apartment in downtown San Jose, near San Jose State University.  After searching for a church, we joined the First United Methodist Church in San Jose on 5th Street.  Later years this relationship with the Methodist Church and its pastors helped us in obtaining a place for Malayalam worship service.

The urge for a Malayalam service was so intense that we had to ask Rev. Jacob Vallian (a Catholic priest teaching in the Menlo Park seminary) to come and lead us in a prayer meeting.  He kindly obliged and did a semi CSI / Mar Thoma service for us.  Within the 12 month period we had more Malayalees migrate to the Bay Area.  We also found out that there was a gathering of Malayalees once in a while at Stanford University.  There were only about 15-20 Malayalee families from Sacramento to San Jose area.

During one of the Malayalee gatherings in 1976 we met Rev. P.T. Mammen and family.  We also found out from him that there were three Malyalee bachelors who lived in San Francisco.  They were Cherian Philip (Rajan), Josie Varghese (Josie) and K.O. Oommen.  This was the start of a special friendship.  Rev. P.T. Mammen was the Assistant Pastor at the Glad Tidings Church in San Francisco.  Rajan and Josie lived in an apartment next to the Glad Tidings church.  We had several get together at their apartment and enjoyed each others company.

Since Rev. PT Mammen had been in America for several years and with his connection with the Churches in India, any Achen or Thirumeni visiting the San Francisco area invariably contacted him.  This allowed us to have a CSI or Mar Thoma worship once in a while.  We had several such services both at Glad Tidings Church in San Francisco and at First United Methodist Church in San Jose.  Several Malayalee friends regardless of the denominations attended these services.  So in many ways these were indeed ecumenical worships.  During the next few years several Bishops and Achens conducted service for us when they visited the Bay Area.

The first wedding in our community was of Rajan and Leelamma (Mr. & Mrs. Cherian Philip) in Houston.  This union added one more member to our community.  Then came the wedding of Josie and Susie.  We had our first child, Suja, in 1979.  The first baptism that was celebrated in the community was of our second daughter Sunitha in 1981.  This was officiated by Rt. Rev. Dr. MM John Bishop of the CSI central Diocese. Six months after the birth of our youngest daughter Susan, my father was called to eternal rest on April 24th, 1983.  His was the first funeral we had in our church community.

Our community started to grow rapidly.  By now we all felt the need for regular worship service in order to follow the footsteps of our forefathers and to provide a taste of our beliefs and culture to our children.  First step towards this was to have regular prayer meetings.  Mr. P.T Thomas (Babychayan) took the initiative to start a prayer fellowship in our community.  If my memory serves me correctly the first prayer meeting was at Mr. Mathew Kurian’s residence (Lalu).  This was a big blessing for our community and was attended by all Christians without denominational barriers.  We had special prayers and Bible studies for our children in English. We also organized Christmas programs and plays for the children.  I have to specially remember the service and leadership of Mr. John Joseph (Baby).

On July 29th, 1984, Rt. Rev. Thomas Mar Athanasius Suffragan Metropolitan, then Diocesan Bishop visited us along with Rev. D. Philip and conducted a Holy Communion service at San Francisco.  This service was attended by the nineteen (19) CSI / Mar Thoma families here.  After the Holy Communion service, we requested Thirumeni to grand us permission to start a Mar Thoma congregation here in the San Francisco Bay Area.  Beloved Thirumeni granted us permission to start a congregation and to conduct services.  See attached request that was submitted to Thirumeni and his approval.

Since we were not assigned a Pastor, we eagerly waited for the opportunity of any Achen or Thirumeni passing by the Bay Area.  The vicars of Mar Thoma Church of Los Angeles Rev. Kuruvilla and Rev. Pothen visited us and conducted Holy Communion service once or twice a year as was convenient.  Rev. Eapen and Rev. Daniel of CSI church who were students at the SFO Theological Seminary also celebrated Holy Communion Services.  We had several Bishops and Achens visit us while they were in the Bay Area.

On June 15th 1990, then diocesan bishop Rt. Rev. Philipose Mar Chrysostom notified us that the Metropolitan Rt. Rev. Dr. Alexander Marthoma has raised the status of our church from a congregation to a Parish within the Mar Thoma Church.  This was a turning point for our church.  We did not have any regular Sunday worship or gathering then.  Many of us felt that this was a must for the continued growth of our spiritual life and community.  Further more all of us maintained dual membership – one membership in an English speaking Church beside the Malayalam Church.  My family maintained our membership with the First United Methodist Church during these years.  This came in as a blessing in the growth of our church.