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Tribute to Bishop Dr A. George Ninan

Tribute to Bishop Dr A. George Ninan of the Church of North India.

25 June 2015

(Born: 4.8.1934; Died: 21.6.2015)

Bishop Dr A George Ninan passed away on 21st June, 2015 in New York City. It's a huge loss to the ecumenical movement and many social movements. He was a pioneer in multiple initiatives and experiments that led to creating a world where more people could experience God's Love, Justice and Peace.

Bishop George Ninan retired on the 4th of August, 1999, his 65th Birthday, as the Bishop of Nasik Diocese, Church of North India (CNI).

Associated in India and Asia with the Urban-Rural Mission (URM), Bishop Ninan was involved in shaping up rights-based responses and programmes with the leftist perspective, creating organizations and institutions committed to the people’s struggles for justice, liberation, peace and human dignity.

Bishop Ninan was born on August 4, 1934 in Kaviyoor village in the then Central Travancore (now part of Thiruvalla of Kerala State in India). He then moved to a small but vibrant port-town of Alleppey (Alappuzha) at the age of six, where his father Ambat Ninan George was a clerk in one of the big European coir companies, thus providing an early exposure to the exploitative and unjust working and living conditions of the coir workers.

He followed his secular education there, later moving to Jabalpur in Madhya Pradesh for theological studies at the Leonard Theological College. He completed his doctoral studies at Philips University, USA on a scholarship awarded by the World Council of Churches.

He first served as a pastor at the All Saint’s Cathedral, Nagpur in Maharashtra, and later worked with the Urban-Industrial Mission in Mumbai (then Bombay), which led him to launch a new organization, the Bombay Urban-Industrial League for Development (BUILD) in 1973. BUILD came to be recognized for courageously opposing the demolition of about 70,000 homes of slum-dwellers in the Janata Colony in one of the largest slums of Asia called Dharavi. This was during the Emergency Rule in India (1975-77) under the Prime Ministership of Mrs. India Gandhi.

Bishop George Ninan is known for initiating a number of social action-oriented institutions like the Asha Kendra, Vikas Adhyan Kendra, AGAPE TRUST, etc. - most of these are still contributing creatively to expressing solidarity with the suffering and struggling people.

In 1979, Bishop Ninan was invited to become the Executive Secretary of the Urban-Rural Mission of the Christian Conference of Asia (CCA), at Hong Kong. In 1986, he became the associate general secretary of CCA at Singapore.

On his return to India in 1990, he became the presbyter of the Bombay Diocese (CNI), as well as the Director of the Vikas Adhyan Kendra.

In 1992, Bishop Ninan contributed remarkably in the formation of the Indian National Social Action Forum (INSAF), bringing together some 500 social action groups, social movements, progressive intellectuals, in response to the threats and challenges posed by the forces of globalization and communalism. INSAF today is one of the strongest alliances of secular-democratic-socialist groups and individuals in India combating communalism, resisting globalization and defending democracy.

In 1993, Bishop George Ninan became the Programme Coordinator of the CNI- Synodical Board of Social Services (CNI-SBSS) at New Delhi, which started a unique programme under his leadership called: Towards a Holistic Understanding of Mission (THUM). He later became the Chairperson of CNI-SBSS.

As the Bishop of the Nasik Diocese, George Ninan contributed his vast knowledge and experience to rejuvenate the pre-dominantly Dalit Diocese, transforming it into a responsive community asserting its identity and self-hood in order to spread the gospel of Love, Peace, Justice and Dignity.

After his retirement from the Diocese, Bishop Ninan continued to be actively involved in various ministries of Service and Witness, primarily providing theological insights, political perspective and strategic direction to various movements, both within and outside the churches. In 2001, Bishop Ninan and his wife decided to leave for Canada and the USA out of family considerations, as their three children were based there. However, Bishop Ninan continued to be actively engaged in Church Ministry as a presbyter, while continuing to be associated with Indian groups and institutions.

While engaged in a number of ecumenical activities and student work with the Student Christian Movement of India (SCMI), he met Rachel, a pastor’s daughter. The SCM liaison led to their marriage on October 19, 1961. They have three children – Reny George, Reena Mary and Rajeev Jacob, all of whom settled in the USA.

During his ecumenical journey, Bishop Ninan served on several committees of URM-WCC, CCA-URM, NCCI, not to speak of the Church of North India. Known as a “Guru” and a “People’s Bishop” to hundreds of Christian Social Activists, pastors and lay-leaders in India and Asia, and taken seriously both by the Church and Society, Bishop Ninan will be missed as the “radical voice of the voiceless”.

- Drafted by Adv. Rajendra Sail, a close associate of Bishop Ninan