Vellore / Cambridgeshire Link

Our ecumenical mission goes beyond the county borders.

We seek unity with Christians around the world. 

Our international link with the Vellore Diocese in the Church of South India began in the 1990s. We linked with this ecumenical body so that we can learn and grow in Christian unity. What we learn together directly impacts our work in Cambridgeshire. 

The words "Vellore Cambridgeshire Ecumenical Link" with picture of holding hands in front of brightly coloured cloth
A purple cross interlaid with orange flames and lotus petals, encircled by the words THAT THEY ALL MAY BE ONE, CHURCH OF SOUTH INDIA.
The logo of the Church of South India brings together the Lotus (a symbolic flower indigenous to India), the Cross, and the flames of the Holy Spirit. The image is encircled by the words THAT THEY ALL MAY BE ONE, CHURCH OF SOUTH INDIA. 

The Church of South India

The Church of South India is an ecumenical church that unites four different church traditions: Anglican, Congregational, Methodist, and Presbyterian. The church relates to the Anglican Communion, the World Methodist Council, and the World Communion of Reformed Churches.

When the Church of South India was inaugurated in 1947, it brought together for the first time churches with bishops (‘episcopal’) and churches without bishops (‘non­-episcopal’) into a united episcopal church. 

As the Church of South India explains

“Episcopal, Presbyterian, and congregational elements are all necessary for the church’s life… The union, especially in its reconciliation of the Anglican doctrine of apostolic succession with the views of other denominations, is often cited as a landmark in the ecumenical movement… A unique church was born out of the blending of the Episcopal and non - Episcopal traditions as a gift of God to the people of India and as a visible sign of the ecclesiastical unity for the universal church.” 

This approach to united church governance differs from many other uniting churches. It provides a special link with Churches Together in Cambridgeshire, which contains both episcopal and non-episcopal churches. 

The Vellore Diocese

Churches Together in Cambridgeshire partners directly with the Vellore Diocese in the Church of South India.  We share in common a mostly-rural context.  

The Vellore Diocese centres around the town of Vellore in the north of Tamil Nadu. Vellore is about 3 hours west of Chennai (Madras). The diocese crosses the state boundaries of Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh, making it a bilingual diocese with Tamil spoken in the south and Telagu in the north. The diocese has 100 pastors in 100 pastorates, and each pastorate may include several rural churches. It also includes schools, hospitals, and training institutes. 

The diocese’s vision is to reach to all the poorest and offer them the love of Christ through education, training, help with farming practices, support for the environment as well as through sustaining village churches. There is particular support for women and girls, and more than 90% of the Christians come from the Dalit community.  

You can read more about the Vellore Diocese and the Church of South India here

An embroidered crest features a large brown cross surrounded by an open book, a lit candle, a blue map of India with a red dot for Vellore, and a tree with green leaves.
The shield of the Vellore Diocese contains a St Thomas Cross, a map of India, a Bible, a lamp and a banyan tree. The St Thomas Cross recognises the long tradition of Christians in India, including those who trace their origins to St Thomas the Apostle in the 1st century. The banyan is the tree under which Henry, Joseph and William Scudder prayed before they decided to begin their work in the area of Vellore. 
A white sheet of paper with signatures at the bottom contains this text: In gratitude to Almighty God for blessing the growth of fellowship and partnership between the Cambridgeshire Ecumenical Council, England, and the Diocese of Vellore, South India, we jointly COVENANT together to Pray regularly for one another Work together to strengthen the links of Christian Fellowship Exchange ideas and learn from each other’s Christian experience Give mutual support and encouragement to one another We dedicate ourselves anew to these tasks in the service of Our Lord Jesus Christ, the head of the Church, and in service to one another in the confidence that the Holy Spirit is our guide in all our growing together. We agree to review this Covenant in seven years time.
The covenant between the Vellore Diocese and Churches Together in Cambridgeshire

Vellore / Cambridgeshire Covenant

The Vellore / Cambridgeshire Link was inaugurated at Bar Hill Church in September 1992. It was renewed in 1998, 2005, 2012, and 2022.

Our covenant is reciprocal. This is not a charity link. Rather, the link is between equal partners who are seeking together to know the fullness of unity in Jesus Christ. 

In the covenant we agree to:

The most recent covenant renewal was in 2022, when the Rt Revd Sharma Nithiyanandam, Bishop in Vellore, visited Cambridgeshire with his wife BishopAmma Sophia and diocesan secretary Revd Jared Jebareuben. This was the 30th anniversary year of the link, as well as the 75th anniversary of the Church of South India. The signing took place in a special service of Evening Prayer at Ely Cathedral. The Revd Gale Richards, chairperson of Churches Together in Cambridgeshire, and regional denominational leaders signed on behalf of the Cambridgeshire churches. The Covenant was renewed for a further seven years. 

Two individuals lean over a small wooden table while two other people in robes look on. In the background is a stained glass window, flowers, and stone columns.
Bishop Sharma and Revd Canon Gale Williams and sign the covenant.
Two individuals in white robes lean over a small wooden table to write on a white piece of paper.
Leaders renew the Covenant at Ely Cathedral. Photos by Shirley Hall.
Seven people stand on steps and smile for the camera in front of an altar, flowers, and stone columns.
Churches Together in Cambridgeshire and the Vellore Diocese celebrate the Renewal of Covenant service on 16th August 2022. 

Shared Priorities

The Vellore / Cambridgeshire Link results in both mutual learning and action. Topics explored include religious freedom, interfaith relations, climate justice, women’s empowerment, and lay training. We focus on mutually agreed priorities, where the churches in Cambridgeshire and the churches in Vellore listen for shared concerns and discern how the Spirit is calling us to learn from one another. 

Climate Justice 

Climate Justice is a longstanding priority. In 2016-2017, a two-part conference was held in St Ives and Vellore, with people from both countries participating in each part of the conference. These Eco Conferences highlighted the leadership of the Church of South India in addressing the global climate crisis. The Church of South India is motivated both out of care for God’s creation and for support for the poor, who are the greatest sufferers in a time of climate change. 

Following these Eco Conferences, Link participants committed to putting our learning into action. In a joint statement, church leaders wrote: 

“From Vellore, from Cambridgeshire and from other parts of the world, we have heard the stories of those affected by climate change.  In repentance and hope, we seek to align ourselves with the life- affirming force of the love of Christ and to support the integrity of creation.” 

The two groups then held ecological walks in our own areas, a Lenten Carbon Fast, and a third joint Eco Conference in 2019, which again brought together keynote speakers and participants from both countries.  

Schools in Vellore and Cambridgeshire emphasised climate justice. In Vellore, diocesan schools promoted Eco concern through Green School Projects. In Cambridgeshire, religious educators involved in the Link produced the ‘Vellore Eco Unit’ which framed climate justice through the lens of our friends in Vellore. 

You can learn more about the climate priority beginning on page 13 here

A man in a white alb looks at green saplings growing out of brown bags
The third Eco Conference concluded with the distribution of saplings to delegates. The participants from Vellore took them back to their churches and organisations for planting. 


The earliest priority identified by the Vellore / Cambridgeshire Link was education and youth empowerment. Each group has sent youth delegations to visit the other country. 

Beginning in 2011, Link participants in Cambridgeshire produced a religious education unit  entitled "Wannakam" (the traditional Tamil welcome greeting), which addressed the question "What is it like to be a Christian in Vellore?" This supported teaching on Christianity as a World Faith, and it was sent to all primary schools in the county as part of the Cambridgeshire Agreed Syllabus for Religious Education. This was followed by the Vellore Eco Unit that addressed climate justice. 

The Vellore Diocese maintains many educational institutions for children, youth, and adults. While the link is not primarily financial, some assistance has been given in support of education for girls and the hostels that enable the education of rural children.  

Six women dressed in white saris and and bow their heads inside a church
Bible Women Commissioning Service

Gender Equality

An emerging priority is gender equality, specifically the empowerment of women and girls. This topic has been brought by Bishop Sharma, who requests prayer as they strive for egalitarian community. Specific prayer requests include training and skill development for the Bible women and empowering girl children through education. The Bible Women are specially commissioned by the bishop to work in the villages, teaching the Christian faith as well as health practices like nutrition and hygiene. Women also serve as pastors and have been ordained since 1996. 

This gender justice priority relates to the Gender Equity Enabling Timetable (GEET) campaign of CSI-SEVA (Social Empowerment:Vision in Action). This department of the Church of South India has produced a Lay Preachers’ Curriculum, Sermon Outlines, and two Bible studies. These resources connect climate change to gender justice, noting that climate change has a disproportionate effect on women in poverty. The Link plans to host a joint Bible study over zoom with participants from both Cambridgeshire and Vellore. 

Exchange Trips 

The Vellore/Cambridgeshire Link is maintained through ongoing communication and regular exchange trips. These trips, which occur every few years, go both directions: Christians in Vellore travel to Cambridgeshire, and Christians in Cambridgeshire travel to Vellore.  

Each link trip offers the opportunity to get to know other Christians in another country and culture, listen and learn together, spend time in prayer and worship, and take the risk that your life might be changed. The trips frequently have a focus. The lessons learned are fed back into the life of Churches Together in Cambridgeshire, its constituent denominations, and many of the local congregations in Cambridgeshire and beyond.

Revd Fiona Brampton, Vellore Link Coordinator, says of these exchange trips: 

“The basis of the link has always been primarily about friendship, understanding and prayer.  All our trips have had this at their heart.” 

There is also time for rest and relaxation and to enjoy the richness of South Indian culture. The time together builds relationships that continue after the trip is over. 

Read testimonies from trip participants on pages 5-12 here.  

A map of the South India shows the dioceses in different bright colors. The Vellore Diocese is to the west of the Madras Diocese, which borders the Bay of Bengal
This map shows the dioceses in the Church of South India. 

Vellore Link Support Group 

The Vellore Link Support Group organises an annual day of prayer, Bible studies, and ongoing communication both with our partners in Vellore and the churches in Cambridgeshire. We have also hosted lectures with Friends of the Church of India and sent participants to the ecumenical South Asia Forum.  

Looking Ahead

The Annual Day of Prayer for the Vellore/Cambridgeshire Link is the Sunday before Lent begins. This will occur on 11 February 2024, 2 March 2025, and 15 February 2026. 

A special evening is planned for Thursday, 29th February 2024 at 6:30pm at Bar Hill Church. Christians across Cambridgeshire are invited to gather for a unique storytelling event: International Stories: Celebrating Church Links around the World. The event will highlight a number of international links and feature stories from participants in the January 2024 Vellore Link Exchange Trip. 

Later in 2024, there will be an online Bible Study with our friends in Vellore on the topic of Gender Justice. 

Over three decades after this link began, we celebrate the Vellore Link’s continuing relevance to our work towards church unity. We echo Jesus’ prayer for the church —the prayer of the Church of South India— that we all may be one.  

International Stories: Celebrating Church Links around the World. Thursday, 29 February 2024. 6:30pm at Bar Hill Church. Hosted by Churches Together in Cambridgeshire.