The last missionary of the Raj

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Fr Ian Weatherall

Born January 19, 1922, died April 30, 2013

Ian Charles Weatherall was born on January 19, 1922 at Clayton-le-Moors, Lancashire, the only child of Ian Weatherall, a First World War Army officer with the 9th Bhopal Infantry, known as the Bo Peeps. He was educated at City of London School.

During the Second World War he was commissioned in the Indian Army. As part of the Indian Army’s reorganisation in 1922, the Bo Peeps had become the 4th/16th Punjab Regiment, and Weatherall chose to join it, spending much of his service training soldiers in jungle warfare.

From a young age he had developed a strong social conscience, and he was enormously moved by India. While in the Army he was deeply shocked to find that in some South Indian churches Dalit Christians, then called ‘untouchables’, sat apart from the rest of the congregation. During the Second World War he visited the Cambridge Brotherhood (as the Delhi Brotherhood of the Ascension was then known), to attend a course for men hoping to be ordained.

After the war he studied Theology at King’s College London and was ordained in Winchester Cathedral. He served a curacy in Southampton before returning to India in 1951, spending the rest of his life with the Brotherhood.

An outgoing figure, Weatherall soon became the public face of the Brotherhood. Dealing with the Indian authorities’ suspicion of missionaries — a suspicion that led to a ban on any more coming to reside in India — was a delicate task. Yet Weatherall won respect because he was willing to adapt his doctrine to India, whose pluralism taught him that the saying in St John’s Gospel ‘I am the way, the truth and the life’ did not mean that Christianity was the only way to God.

He came to be deeply involved in the Indian Church. He was vicar of St James’ church in Old Delhi for nearly 20 years, and for a short spell in 2001 vicar of the city’s Cathedral of the Redemption. At both he was renowned for his magnificent voice and his ability to pack much into a commendably short sermon. One Good Friday he forgot his glasses and so was unable to read his notes; he had to ad lib seven sermons, but no one in the congregation noticed.

Although steeped in the Anglican tradition, Weatherall willingly accepted the changes which came when in 1970 the Anglican Church in North India merged with five other Churches, including the Baptists and Methodists. There were changes in liturgy and the orders of the Church to accommodate a greater degree of Protestantism in the new Church of North India. Priests, for instance, became presbyters, and the head of the Church known as a moderator instead of an archbishop.

Weatherall played a role in the theological discussions leading to the union and argued strongly for the office of archdeacon to be retained, so that bishops did not have to get involved in the financial affairs of their diocese. This was thought to be ‘too Anglican’, yet the wisdom of such a move has subsequently been highlighted by financial controversies.

Nor did Weatherall always get his own way in his services. While he was vicar of St James’ a group of leprosy sufferers, who would gather outside the church door to receive alms from the congregation, told Weatherall they were Christians and asked him to conduct a burial service for one of their number. Weatherall then asked the congregation to allow them to attend their service, and receive communion. The congregation was horrified.

Weatherall did, however, arrange for regular services to be held for the leprosy patients, which was the start of the Brotherhood’s work with them and among deprived women and children. This led to the formation of an NGO, the Brotherhood Society, which Weatherall headed at the time of his death...

Full obituary in The Telegraph, London: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/obituaries/10057078/Father-Ian-Weathrall.html

Obituary in The Statesman: http://www.thestatesman.net/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=454682&catid=95

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