History of Methodist Church in India In 1856, the Methodist Episcopal Church from America started mission in India. The Methodist Episcopal Church began its work in India in 1856, when William Butler came from America. He selected Oudh and Rohilkhand as the field of effort, and being unable to secure a residence at Lucknow, began work at Bareilly. The first War of Independence broke up the work at Bareilly, but in 1858 Lucknow was occupied and Bareilly re-occupied and the work of the Mission started anew.
By the year 1864 the work had grown to such an extent that it was organized under the name of the India Mission Conference. Additional stations were occupied in Oudh, Rohilkhand, Garhwal and Kumaon, and by the year 1876 The Methodist Episcopal Church had established work both along evangelistic and educational lines, that was to furnish the foundation for the largest and most successful Mission of the Church. Methodist Churches were established in cities such as Mumbai, Kolkata, Chennai, Kanpur and Bangalore. Special revival meetings were held which led the church out of its boundaries and gave it a national status.
The year 1870 marked the beginning of a new era in the history of Methodism in India. On the invitation of James M. Thoburn, who was already an acknowledged leader in the Mission, the famous evangelist William Taylor was invited to India to hold special revival meetings. On his arrival he started his work at Lucknow, but subsequently went to Kanpur where markedly successful results led to a request from the converts that a Methodist minister be stationed at that city. The work had thus far been confined to the territory East and North of the Ganges, but by that river. This was the first step in the process of an expansion that resulted in putting The Methodist Episcopal Church on the map of all Southern Asia. The work of William Taylor, resulting in a spiritual revival in every city he visited brought together groups of men and women who asked to be organized into churches. Thus there came into existence Methodist congregations in Kanpur, Bombay, Poona, Calcutta, Secunderabad, Madras, Bangalore, Nagpur and other cities. It was this that changed the course of Methodism in India and led our Church out of its provincial boundaries and made it a national factor. In 1873 the churches established by William Taylor were organized into the “Bombay-Bengal Mission.” The next step in the development of our Church in India was taken in 1876 when the South India Annual Conference was organized, taking in all the territory outside the bounds of the original Upper India field. This was followed in 1888 by the organization of the Bengal Annual Conference, and by 1893 the work had so far expanded that the Bombay and North-West India Annual Conferences were also set apart. Between the years 1871 and 1900, The Methodist Episcopal Church, from being a mere provincial organization with a dozen mission stations became a great national Church throughout all Southern and South-Eastern Asia, with work carried on in twelve languages, extending from Manila to Quetta and from Lahore to Madras. In the same period our Christian community had increased from 1,835 to 1, 11,654. No more romantic chapter can be found in the annals of missionary history than this that tells of such phenomenal expansion and growth under the blessing and guidance of God.
In 1904 the field was again sub-divided by the organization of the Central Provinces Mission Conference, which was followed by setting the work of Burma apart and organizing it as a Mission Conference. In 1921 two Annual Conferences, namely Lucknow and Gujarat, were brought into existence and another division of the field was made in 1922 when the Indus River Annual Conference was organized. In 1925 the Hyderabad Annual Conference was separated from the South India Annual Conference. In 1956 Agra Annual Conference was separated from Delhi Annual Conference and Moradabad Annual Conference from the North India Annual Conference. In 1960 the Karachi Provisional Annual Conference was organized. Thus in 95 years from 1865 to 1960, the one Conference in India had grown into 13, covering the whole of Southern Asia.
But while the work in India itself had been growing so rapidly, the work of the Methodist Episcopal Church had also spread far beyond the bounds of India. Under the leadership of James M. Thoburn, Burma was entered in 1879, where John E. Robinson became the pioneer missionary, and in 1885 the work in Malaysia was begun by the establishment of a mission at Singapore, the pioneer here being William F. Oldham. But this was not the limit of expansion. In 1899, when the Philippines came into the possession of the United States of America, the farsighted James M. Thoburn promptly entered Manila and established the work of our Church in those islands. Here another of India’s missionaries, Homer C. Stuntz, became one of the great pioneer workers. All these missionary leaders later became Bishops of the Church The year 1870 is remarkable in Indian Methodism’s history not only because of William Taylor’s visit but for another reason as well. It was the year that marked the coming of the first missionaries of the Woman’s foreign Missionary Society of the Methodist Episcopal Church. Two young ladies arrived that year: Isabella Thoburn, to start her wonderful work of education among India’s girls and women; and Clara Swain, to inaugurate our medical work among the women of this land, she being the first lady doctor to undertake such work in Asia. It was fitting that the first missionaries of the Woman’s Foreign Missionary Society should come to India, for Mrs. Lois S. Parker, who with her husband Edwin W. Parker had come to India in 1859 and Mrs. William Butler who had served in India still earlier were the leading spirits in the organization of the Woman’s Society in Boston, U.S.A., in 1869. The growth of the work supported by our Woman’s Division (formerly Woman’s Foreign Missionary Society) has been even more phenomenal than that of our Board of Foreign Missions, and in all lines of missionary endeavour it has met with remarkable success.
Evangelistic work in the villages of northern India resulted the baptism of large numbers of people from the deprived classes. Thus it began the mass movement work, which has brought thousands of converts into the Methodist Church in rural areas. In 1920 the Methodist Missionary Society was organized to supervise the missionary work in India. In 1930 the Central Conference of southern Asia elected the first national Bishop. Since the Independence of India in 1947 all bishops have been Indian nationals. Missionaries were sent to Borneo in 1956 and to the Fiji islands in 1963. Since 1928, the MCI was engaged in union negotiations in North India. In 1970 – the Central Conference voted against the plan of union, but dialogue with the Church of North India has been continued. In 1981 the Methodist Church in India was established as an “autonomous affiliated” church in relation with the united Methodist church. This ushered in a new era for Indian Methodism. The church is now independent in organization and has adopted its own constitution and book of discipline and articles of faith.