Culture is the experience of life It expresses the aspects of our behavior, determining our perceptions, articulation of our faith and our religious experience. Our experience of life differ according to our patterns of living.
Ecumenical Council of Kerala Churches in Chicago is a notion evolved out of our cultural identity, out of our common traditions and the culture of the Kerala Christians in North America.
During the early part of the 1970's, a large number of Christians from Kerala immigrated to North America. In addition to the other major cities in North America, Chicago was one of the major cities they settled down in. They came for better prospects, but soon realized the significance of faith and worship. There were very few families at that point and they gathered together to worship inspite of the differences of denominations. The early congregation was ecumenical in nature. Once they became viable, each denomination established their own presence and influence forming their own churches. But in the midst of their separation they all felt the need and necessity to have a common fellowship. Ecumenical Council of Kerala Churches in Chicago was the result of that quest to be together again. While we have similar organizations in many large cities in North America today, Ecumenical Council of Kerala Churches in Chicago is the first such organization.
As the Council is celebrating its 25th anniversary, it is only appropriate that we pause a moment to review with admiration, its growth during the past years, and also postulate the promises it holds for the future. There is no doubt that the past quarter of a century of its unabated growth is a matter of pride for every Kerala Christian in Chicago area. It nevertheless humbles one, to realize that we found a common ground in this community segregated on ecclesiastical and theological differences and stood together during the past 25 years. Within these theological differences there is a common factor bonding us together, which is our faith and culture.
Ecumenism is a noble thought that in effect metabolizes the agape, the love of God to bind us together. The Ecumenical Council of Kerala Churches in Chicago is thus deeply indebted to those pioneers that laid the foundation of that movement in the heart of Chicago two and a half decades ago. It was a dignified notion passionately adapted by a few elders under the guidance of Cor-Episcopos Dr. Kuriakose Thottupuram.
In his own words the Episcopos describes the Ecumenical movement as the articulation of common faith in areas that we can witness together. This notion was conceived to unite the people without differentiation between the diverse Christian denominations. On July 4th 1984 under the initiative of a few, a Malayalam service was organized where the Episcopos was the main celebrant. As days passed by, the churches started segregating into separate congregations, and there was an urge to get together in a common arena to keep up the spirit of togetherness.
According to the Episcopos, a meeting of the Kerala Churches in Chicago was held in October of 1984 to plan a get together to celebrate Christmas. The Ecumenical Council of Kerala Churches in Chicago was the result of that meeting. On Sunday December 16, 1984, the first Ecumenical event in the history of Kerala Christians in the Chicago area - the Christmas celebration - was held at the Flanner Hall Auditorium of Loyola University of Chicago, 6525 North Sheridan Road. The guest speaker was His Excellency The Most Rev. Bishop Nevin William Hayes. The Christians of Kerala Churches belonging to the CSI, Jacobite, Marthoma, Roman Catholic and Orthodox churches got together on that auspicious occasion.
The focal event of the council for many following years was the Christmas celebration. Each church presented a pageant based upon the common theme of Christmas. As years went by, the Council initiated other events and organized celebrations such as the St. Thomas Day. The annual Bible Convention was started in 1998 with speakers from various denominations addressing the ecumenical community. The Women’s and Youth wings also got together during this annual event. In 2002, ‘Family Night’ with an emphasis on cultural aspects in the Kerala Christian community was added to this list of growing number of activities. The family night or “Kudumbamela” has now become a popular activity providing an opportunity to collect funds for charitable purposes.
The vision for the ecumenical movement is to grow as an independent body providing a common ground or platform in religious, social and cultural areas, keeping individual identities but working towards the common spiritual growth. Other social oriented initiatives such as a major fundraising which raised $6500 as contribution to the United Nations Disaster Relief Office (UNDRO) earmarked towards repatriation/relief measures with respect to the Indian origins in the Persian Gulf War in 1990 indicate the social awakening of the Ecumenical community that reached out globally. The Council also voiced their opinion supporting actions to stop violence against Christians and other causes threatening the civilized communities in the world. This year as part of the Jubilee celebrations, the Council organized many special programs such as building a house for a poor family in India, an essay competition for the youth and adults, publishing an ecumenical calendar, and Basketball tournament for the youth which is expected to continue as a yearly event. Representatives from the churches meet once a month at one of the member congregations to organize these programs. The Council continues to grow tremendously, even though we are an immigrant minority community in a land so vastly diverse both culturally and socially. The various events organized by the Council are bringing us together. Our prayers are that the blessings and grace of the Lord will continue to foster this movement. During the last quarter of a century, we have embarked on a journey together with the confidence that as we continue our journey together God Almighty will guide us and lead us in His way.