The American Baptist Free Mission Society (ABFMS) entered Bengal in the early part of the 19th century with the same objective as other missionary organisations of the time — to teach about Jesus Christ, Christianity and spread the faith, particularly among the deprived and the down-trodden.
In this process, one J. Philips of the ABFMS started a free vernacular school for Santhalis in 1845 at a place called Jellasore in Midnapore. The school was popular and attracted many students. Seeing the need for more, between 1862 and 1870, under the leadership of Rev. Otis Robinson Bacheler, there were at least 30 schools established in Midnapore by the ABFMS. By 1881, thanks to the society, the area had some 1,600 students, including 250 girls, mostly from Santhal communities.
Otis Robinson Bacheler and his second wife established the church in 1862
This spoke volumes of the work these American missionaries did in Midnapore. Rev. Bacheler committed his entire youth to the people of Midnapore, and his first wife Catherine Palmer died there in 1845.
With the number of Christians growing in the region, in 1862, Bacheler and his second wife Sarah P. Bacheler, established a small church in Midnapore town — the American Baptist Church. It was the first church founded by an American Baptist in the region. Bacheler served the church as pastor till 1893, when he returned to the USA.
Simple as it is, the church is maintained well and regularly paintedSomen Sengupta
Thus started the story of an exceptional Protestant church of Bengal, which still graces the landscape of Midnapore town. Situated at the Sepahi Bazar area, the church is now known as the Midnapore Baptist Church.
The church is located in the Sepahi Bazar area of Midnapore townSomen Sengupta
The beauty of the church lies in its simple form — it has one bell tower and an expanded low-roofed prayer hall. That’s it.
The bell tower has four arched gothic windows at the top and the tower has a sharp pinnacle, similar to a Hindu temple. There is no ornamentation on the tower, but it houses a mid-sized iron bell that was imported many years ago.
The bell platform inside the tower, presently under repairCourtesy: Midnapore Baptist Church
Inside the prayer hall, there are two marble memorial plaques. One is dedicated to the loving memory of its first pastor Otis Robinson Bacheler and his wife. It was placed there by their five children.
The other plaque is dedicated to an Indian pastor named Rev. Sachidananda Rai, who was born in 1860 and converted to Christianity in 1880. The “devoted servant of Christ” died in 1912.
The two marble dedicatory plaques inside the prayer hallCourtesy: Midnapore Baptist Church
Being a Protestant church, it does not have any idol, but a wooden cross adorns the wall. There is also a room for baptisms, which is still in use.
Apart from these, there is hardly anything ‘vintage’ inside the church now. According to Rajkumar Mishra, a member of the church committee, there was a beautiful antique clock inside the church for many years, which is now untraceable.
The service is held mostly in Bengali, and apart from Sunday mass, there is a weekly fasting mass every Friday.
Being a Protestant church, it does not have any idol, but a wooden cross adorns the wallCourtesy: Midnapore Baptist Church
Simple as it is, the church is maintained well and regularly painted. During the festive week of December, it is illuminated and attracts a good number of people.
Despite being one of the oldest churches in Midnapore, it is not yet included in any heritage plan or list of the government. The church authorities had once approached Sandhya Roy, then MP of Midnapore, and she had assured support. However, unfortunately, nothing has happened till now.
Somen Sengupta is passionate about heritage and travelling and has been writing about it for 26 years. When he is not executing duties as a senior executive in an MNC, he keeps an eye out for intriguing historical trivia and unearths forgotten stories. This also makes him an avid quizzer.