The history of Mission Chapel – the first church building in Visakhapatnam
The first Protestant missionaries came to Visakhapatnam in 1805. They were from the London Missionary Society (LMS). It was the first Protestant missionary society that had come to the Telugu-speaking areas of the former Madras Presidency in 1805. After their arrival, they focused their attention mainly on opening schools, charitable homes and translating the Bible into Telugu. These missionaries started Sunday services in English as well as Telugu. But these Sunday worship services took place in the classrooms, or in the residences of the missionaries, or in the residences of some of the members of the congregation. Amazingly, for about 30 years they did not consider building a church in Visakhapatnam.
In 1835, a missionary by the name of Reverend James William Gordon of the London Missionary Society arrived in Visakhapatnam. Upon his arrival, he noticed that there was no chapel in the town and that the English and Telugu congregations conducted their worship in the classrooms. Reverend Gordon decided to build a chapel and called a meeting of congregation members and others. At the meeting, it was decided that a suitable place would be found to raise a sufficiently large church building. The members then stepped forward to collect Rs. 500. After a few months, another missionary Rev. Edward Porter joined in Visakhapatnam and the two reverends collected enough subscriptions from local and remote parts of India for the construction of the church.
They eventually chose a spot near the Old City Gate where the mission ran a small school for native children. They bought the site and with the help of a military engineer they drew up construction plans. The foundations were dug in November 1835. A committee was formed to oversee the construction of the building. On September 25, 1836, the chapel was consecrated. The English service was in the morning and the Telugu service was in the afternoon that day. It was the first church building in Visakhapatnam, known as “Mission Chapel”, built by the London Missionary Society.
The English and Telugu congregations continued to conduct their worship services in the same mission chapel building for a few years. Later, the Telugu congregation built a separate chapel for themselves on the main road which was known as the “Telugu Chapel”. After some time the English congregation began to gather for their services in a small building called “Gospel House” on Thompson Street in Soldierpet. Their reasoning was that the new Mission Chapel building is a bit far from their homes while the “Gospel House” is located in their place of residence. Thus, for a few years, the mission chapel building was used for purposes other than worship services.
The London Missionary Society, after more than 100 years of service, decided to close their work in Visakhapatnam and move their base to the Rayalaseema area in 1911. Their properties in Visakhapatnam were all taken over by the Canadian Baptist Mission (CBM). Thus, all LMS properties, which included Mission Schools, Mission Cabins in the present CBM Compound, Gospel House, etc., passed into the hands of CBM.
As a result of this change, the congregation worshiping at Gospel House became Union Chapel. The old mission chapel building, which had ceased to be a place of worship for some years, was repaired and rededicated as the “Andhra Baptist Church” in 1925. For this, a liberal donation was was done by a Mrs. Birra Seethayamma, a new convert. from the local Zamindari family. With small modifications, the first church building in Visakhapatnam continues as Andhra Baptist Church under CBM to the present day.
The Telugu Chapel on the main road, built by LMS, remained an independent church, not being transferred to CBM in 1911, along with all other properties. This Telugu church was later named as “London Mission Memorial Church” and now falls under the Church of South India.
The facts and images mentioned above were provided by Vijjeswarapu Edward Paul, a city-based history researcher. A retired maritime director by profession, the septuagenarian, despite his age, collected data on Vizag at the British Library, London, Tamil Nadu Govt. Archives, Archives of the Christian Theological College in Bangalore and Hyderabad, and other public libraries.