From Village Son to Delhi Bishop: Bishop Subodh Mondal

With a big smile, he greets us on the front porch of the Bishop’s House at Delhi’s Butler Memorial Girl’s School. Sudipta, his wife, Indian pastor Rev. Kumar, two administrative assistants, and a security guard are also waiting. “Welcome to our house!” We are excited to arrive. After greeting, he shows us around the Girls’ School.

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Bishop Mondal’s life is fascinating. Born in the small western Bengali village of Bolpur in 1952, Subodh has met people and seen sights he never imagined. He left that village as a child. Since his family could not afford to pay for his education, the whole village chipped in to send him to Kolkata. He was part of the generation of Indians for which probably less than 10% of village children received any type of education.  (I have been told that now it’s 30%). He was given the address of Thoburn Methodist Church where he was to meet the pastor Rev. Homer Morgan. Upon arrival at the church on a Sunday morning, he was afraid to enter. Dwarfing the small homes and shops of his village, Thoburn was intimidating. Before him was a building larger than any he had ever entered; within the building were more Americans and British than he had ever met before. He didn’t enter. Instead he retraced his steps to the train station. However, he began to think “How could I face my family and villagers?” Resolutely, he returned to the church. As the service ended, he shyly spoke to a guard who tried to shoo him away.  But a church lady spoke to him and introduced him to the pastor. She and the pastor, Rev. Homer Morgan, helped him overcome this early crisis of not trusting in the help of others.

His life changed. With the help of Rev. Morgan and Mr. and Mrs. Lee Roy Lewis of Chickamauga, Georgia, Subodh attended and graduated from school, from Bishop’s College, and finally from Serampore Seminary. He married Sudipta and they had a son and an informally adopted daughter. After seminary, he became the pastor of the same church that he had entered that day many years earlier, Thoburn Methodist Church.

I met Subodh in 1990. Since Rev. Morgan had retired to Georgia, he was generous to give me an introduction to Subodh. As a young pastor at Thoburn, Subodh  graciously hosted me in my whirlwind visit of Kolkata. I stayed at the same Bishop’s College, visited Serampore Seminary, and talked with various faculty at those schools. He showed me Kalighat, the famous Hindu temple devoted to Kali,  introduced me to an officer of the Ramakrishna Mission, and helped me meet Mother Theresa.

He faced a second crisis when he became Bishop of Delhi Episcopal Area in 2012. He was already deeply involved in the Methodist Church as the General Secretary of the Methodist Church in India. This second crisis involved the past and present reality of the India Methodist Church. For generations, the Methodist Church in India had depended on considerable financial help from overseas.  However, approximately twenty to thirty years ago, the Indian Methodist Church, like other denominations, began to receive less funding from abroad.  Unfortunately, according to Bishop Mondal, the leadership of the Indian Methodist Church was slow to take on responsibility to find alternative funding.

The legacy of this situation hit him head on when he became Bishop. Within days of his election by fellow clergy, the new Bishop Mondal had received dozens of letters. Pastors complained about their people; people complained about the pastors; all complained about the physical state of their churches or their schools. On a very basic level, everybody wanted money!

Bishop Mondal realized the depth of the problem. The problem was not only about money and a sense of dependency, but also about the lack of trust within the church. Bishop Mondal sought to remove dependency and create trust.

When people came to request funds, he would say: “I’ll give you some money, but you must also raise money.” He wanted to remove the sense of dependency and replace it with a sense of ownership. He found other alternative sources, For example, the state government of Bangalore gave funds for depressed classes and religious minorities. When Bishop Mondal approached the governor, the governor said “Yes, we can give you money. I”ve never been asked by the Methodists!” During his four years as bishop, Bishop Mondal has had 60-80 projects to repair deteriorating structures and build new churches. More importantly, Bishop Mondal created committees to oversee each project. Comprised of lay people and a clergy person, the decisions and actions related to the project became much more transparent. He has begun to create trust.

In the present Delhi episcopal area, Bishop Mondal oversees some 300,000 Methodists, some 55,000 students at Methodist related schools, 21 hostels (boarding schools), and numerous clinics and hospitals.

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Bishop Mondal is interested in more than church building projects. With a pragmatic spirit, Subodh says he strives for “60-40. Sixty percent of our goals are spiritual goals; forty percent are infrastructure goals.” With renewed confidence, the laity are responding to his challenge to be socially active. The environmental damage in India is an overwhelming challenge.  In response, Bishop Mondal sponsored a “Clean India” day. Similarly, as most people recognize, India’s history has included creating a class of untouchables or “Dalits.” He and others work to improve the Dalits status’ as well as publicize their plight through activities such as a “Candleiight Vigil” for social justice.

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Bishop Mondal is interested in providing leadership to the wider Indian Christian community. Because Pranab Mukherjee, the present President of India, was born a few miles from Subodh’s own small village of Bolpur, Subodh has become friends with the President. He leads fellow Christians as the head of the National Council of Churches for India.

Our lives are shaped by ordinary individuals. Subodh Mondal has lived a life very different than what he expected growing up as a village son in Bolpur, Bengal. Like everybody, he has faced his share of crises. In responding to those challenges, Bishop Mondal has worked to make India a better place!

 

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