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The legacy of John Copley Winslow.

J. C. Winslow is listed by mission historian Eric Sharpe as deserving special attention for a fuller understanding of missions in India during the turbulent interwar period.(1) During a twenty-year missionary career (1914-1934), Winslow forged a new type of contact between religions and was variously acclaimed as a "Catholic-minded Sadhu Sundar Singh,"(2) a "great Indo-Anglican mystic," and a pioneer of indigenization. Yet, with the exception of two unpublished works on Christa Seva Sangh, the ashram community founded by Winslow, there is surprisingly little written about him.(3) Like many missionaries of the period, Winslow is in danger of becoming, in John K. Fairbank's haunting phrase, an "invisible man."(4)

Early Career in England

John "Jack" Copley Winslow (1882-1974), the son of an Anglican clergyman, was raised in a comfortable country rectory in the village of Hanworth in Middlesex, England. He came from a long evangelical tradition. One of his great-grandmothers was Mary Winslow, whose Life and Letters was a household favorite among evangelicals of the nineteenth century. His parents, too, imbued him with a strict sense of religious discipline and evangelical piety. Winslow was educated at Eton and then proceeded to Balliol College, Oxford (1902-5), where he came under the influence of the neo-Hegelian philosopher Edward Caird and the Anglo-Catholic scholars Charles Gore, editor of the influential Lux Mundi, and Edwin James Palmer, the chaplain of Balliol and later bishop of Bombay (1908-29). The "fulfillment" theology that Winslow's ashram community would later embody may be traced back to Gore's and Caird's direct influence.(5)

After graduating in 1905, and still preparing for ordination, Winslow visited India. In Delhi and Calcutta he was particularly impressed by the attempts of the Anglican missionary brotherhoods to present Christianity in terms of Hindu culture to Western-educated elites through a lifestyle of austerity and good works. In Delhi he also met C. F. Andrews of the Cambridge Mission to Delhi, who later became his close friend and guru. Winslow's friendship with Andrews was decisive for his future work, particularly in regard to developing the ashram ideal. Returning to England, Winslow spent a year at Wells Theological College, Salisbury, and then worked for four years in the parish of Wimbledon. He was made a deacon in 1907 and was ordained a priest in 1908. From Wimbledon he proceeded to St. Augustine's College, Canterbury, where he spent three years as a lecturer preparing candidates for ordination and overseas service.

Missionary in India

In 1914 Winslow returned to India as a missionary with the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel. At first he was sent by Bishop Palmer to Dapoli in the Konkan, 100 miles south of Bombay, where he devoted much of his time to the study of Marathi.(6) Then, from 1915 to 1919, he served as principal of the Mission High School in Ahmednagar, where he began a close friendship with the distinguished Indian Christian poet Narayan Vaman Tilak. In his biography of Tilak in the Builders of Modern India series, Winslow testified to Tilak's influence. Tilak's life and example, he indicated, persuaded him of the importance of Indian ways and Indian ideals for Christian mission. From Tilak he learned the value of bhakti (loving devotion) and the singing of bhajans (Indian devotional songs) for Christian worship and evangelism.(7) It was also through Tilak's influence that he realized the valuable contribution the church in India had to offer to the world.(8) Winslow was fond of quoting Tilak's prophecy:

Yea, at the end of pregnant strife, Enthroned as Guru of the earth, This land of Hind shall teach the worth Of Christian faith and Christian life.(9)

Toward the end of his time at Ahmednagar, Winslow became convinced that Indian Christians needed a Eucharistic liturgy that was more Indian in form and spirit than the Anglican liturgy of the Book of Common Prayer. His conviction was shared by E. C. Ratcliff, a liturgical scholar, who had studied the Syriac liturgy of St. James as used for centuries by the Syrian Christians in Travancore.(10) Together, they shortened and adapted the Syriac liturgy for Indian conditions and in several places supplemented it from other Eastern and Western liturgies.(11) The new Indian liturgy was published in 1920 with a long preface by Bishop Palmer and introductory essays by Winslow, Ratcliff, and Major J. E. G. Festing of the Royal Engineers, under the title The Eucharist in India. The liturgy, according to Palmer, was revolutionary and important: revolutionary in the sense that the liturgy was framed on Oriental models; important in the sense that Winslow and the others had taken a first step toward encouraging Indians to develop their own forms of worship.(12) One of Winslow's most creative writings, the liturgy was subsequently approved by the Liturgical Committee of the Lambeth Conference in 1920, sanctioned by the Episcopal Synod of India for use in any diocese of the Indian church with the bishop's approval, and later used by the compilers of the liturgies for the Church in Sri Lanka and the Church of South India.

Meanwhile, on furlough in England in August 1919, Winslow had "one of those mysterious experiences" that he described in his autobiography as "divine guidance" or "revelation," which forcibly implanted upon his mind the importance of ashrams for the Indian church. Three factors helped to shape this conviction. The first was the inspiration he had received from Andrews, Sundar Singh, Tilak, and the Thomas Christians in Kerala. They had kindled within him a desire to enter more deeply into the spirit of India and to identify with its people.(13) As well, Winslow was sensitive to the new stirrings of Indian nationalism and was conscious that a church exclusive and remote could never win the heart of India. The Indian church, in Winslow's view, had to show that it welcomed the "desirable things" of Indian religions and culture so that its message might be heard and its invitation accepted. Above all, however, was the impact of the Jallianwalla Bagh massacre in Amritsar in April 1919. The massacre, in Winslow's view, "gathered into one blazing point all the smouldering resentment awakened by a hundred lesser acts of cold superciliousness and cynical contempt, of callous indifference on the part of Englishmen to Indian susceptibilities."(14)

The Launching of Christa Seva Sangh

Faced with the question as to how missionaries could proceed after Amritsar, Winslow decided to establish a Christian ashram and to become a Christian sannyasi in order "to try to contribute something towards the healing of inter-racial strife."(15) He saw it as an act of reparation for the racial arrogance among missionaries. As Winslow commented: "I had been trifling with my fancy for an Anglo-Indian ashram before Amritsar. Amritsar sealed it for ever. I . . . [saw] it as an answer to Amritsar. It's the opposite of Amritsar. An ashram where British and Indians live side by side, unconscious of race or colour, master or servant, Brahman or untouchable."(16)

In 1920 Winslow published the details of his vision for an Indian church in the International Review of Missions. He envisaged an Indian church with community ministers. The natural leader of a community, without relinquishing his profession, was to act as an elder or minister and be commissioned to dispense the sacraments. In other matters, such as discipline and administration, the leader would act in consultation with a panchayat (court) that had the confidence of the people. Over a wider area, a similar system of church government was to prevail with a bishop or overseer as head.(17) Winslow's proposed model for a Christian community was to be truly Indian. The community must be patriotic and eager to promote India's freedom. Its communal life was to be stronger than caste but not isolated from other Indians. It must distinguish itself among its neighbors by its high standards of living and thinking. The education of young children, Winslow envisaged, would follow a pattern similar to that in Rabindranath Tagore's ashram at Bolpur in Bengal, where children learned from the example of a revered guru. For worship, bhajans and other Indian devotional songs would be sung with Indian musical instruments.(18) In terms of architecture, churches should follow the design of Hindu temples. On their walls would be frescoes of exemplary figures of different religious traditions: Isaiah in the temple; Gautama beneath the bo tree; Sita, the type of wifely faithfulness; and Ruth the Moabite, a pattern of self-sacrificing affection.

On his return to India in 1920, Winslow began to realize his vision. He gathered together a small group of Indian Christians at Ahmednagar to form the nucleus of the ashram community called Christa Seva Sangh (initially composed of Indians and Winslow). After an experimental year of living together, Bishop Palmer of Bombay commissioned the first members of the Christa Seva Sangh on June 11, 1922. Details of the early history of Christa Seva Sangh need not concern us,(19) except to note that the object of the ashram was to provide a small fellowship where Indians and Europeans could live together in Indian style and spend half the year in study and training at a central ashram and the other half in touring for evangelistic work. The name Christa Seva Sangh was interpreted in two ways: "The Fellowship of the Servants of Christ," and "The Christian Fellowship of Service." The first translation was in line with the first two aims of the society, which were bhakti (devotion) and the study of sacred texts. The second translation was in keeping with two further aims: service, especially for the sick and suffering, and evangelistic work, based on the conviction that the Gospel of Jesus Christ has in it the secret of uplift and re-creation. The final aim, seen by Winslow as the most distinctive mark of the fellowship, was unpaid work and the sharing of a common fund.(20)

During the early years of Christa Seva Sangh, Winslow wrote three small books exploring Indian and Christian mysticism. In 1923 he published Christian Yoga, containing four devotional addresses first delivered in England. In 1924 he published Jagadguru; or, The World-Significance of Jesus Christ, a reprint of nine articles previously published in the Guardian (Calcutta). Finally in October 1926 he wrote The Indian Mystic: Some Thoughts on India's Contribution to Christianity, published by the Student Christian Movement. Each work was written out of a conviction about the immense value to the West of Indian ascetic and mystical practices. As he observed in Christian Yoga, he had "a vision of India . . . helping powerfully in the task of bringing back to a West grown dry and thirsty in the deserts of a barren materialism the refreshing streams of a living faith in God and in the supremacy of spiritual values."(21)

By June 1926 there were serious fears that the original community of Christa Seva Sangh would collapse, and Winslow used the opportunity of a furlough in England to recruit new blood. At a Student Christian Movement (SCM) conference in Swanwick, Winslow met William Strawan Robertson (later known as Father Algy), an SCM traveling secretary who had worked with W.E.S. Holland at St. Paul's College, Calcutta, and who was interested in returning to work in India.(22) Robertson, an Anglo-Catholic, was able to persuade two SCM friends, Verrier Elwin and Oliver Fielding-Clarke from Oxford, and several laymen to join Winslow in what was soon to be lauded as "the English Church's newest missionary venture abroad."(23)

At a public meeting in Trevelyan Hall, Westminster, on October 11, 1927, held to publicize the venture, Bishop St. Clair Donaldson of Salisbury, chairman of the Missionary Council of the Church of England, delineated the "three great things" about Christa Seva Sangh that had captured his imagination: the fact that it stood for reconciliation between race and race, nation and nation, class and class; that it stood for revolt against a great abuse in missionary work; and that it was a venture of faith. At about the same time, Verrier Elwin offered the Church Times his own understanding of the venture. Christa Seva Sangh, according to Elwin, represented a brotherhood, transcending the distinctions of race, caste, and class; it offered a living demonstration of Tagore's maxim that "humanity is one at the core. East and West are but alternate beats of the same heart."(24) Later, reflecting on his motivation in joining Winslow's missionary experiment, and using language that might as readily have come from William Wilberforce or Albert Schweitzer, Elwin returned to Winslow's theme of atonement and reparation: "I joined the Christa Seva Sangh because I understood that its main interests were scholarship, mysticism [and] reparation."(25)

Breaking New Ground in the Context of Indian Nationalism

The arrival in November 1927 of Winslow's new recruits from Oxford, Cambridge, and elsewhere marked the beginning of the most creative phase of Christa Seva Sangh's existence. Previously, the community had devoted itself to prayer, study, evangelism, and the care of the sick. Now, with Bishop Palmer's encouragement, it sought to break new ground by undertaking literary and educational work among the intelligentsia of Poona, an important center of Hindu scholarship and educational reform.(26) Winslow at this time saw his and the ashram's role as an interpreter of "the ancient Christian Church to India, and of India to the Christian Churches of the West."(27) This interpretive role placed a new emphasis upon the ashram's "works": giving lectures in the city, holding retreats, publishing a scholarly review, supporting social reform, running a student hostel, and building up the Poona branch of the Federation of International Fellowship. The fellowship had recently been established for the purpose of bringing together groups of Hindus, Muslims, Christians, and other religious groups for prayer and discussion of social, economic, and political problems facing the country.(28)

Unlike the bulk of missionaries working in India at the time, Winslow was sympathetic with Gandhi and other leaders of the Indian nationalist movement. He took on the Indian name Devadatta. He wore khadi (homespun), a potent symbol of Indian nationalism, and hosted lectures at the ashram on Gandhi's philosophy of nonviolence. Winslow was not as committed to the nationalist movement as some of the other members of the ashram were, and at times he had difficulty defending them before officials of the India Office and the Bombay government. Nevertheless, in his final work written in India, The Dawn of Indian Freedom, coauthored with Elwin, he opposed the government's bullying tactics of missionaries,(29) he sang the praises of Gandhi's satyagraha campaign, and he went as far as to depict Christ as the fulfillment of India's national aspirations.(30) In his poem "Hail to the Mother," written during the civil disobedience campaign of 1930-31, Winslow is quite lyrical about the nationalist movement:

India, my India! Mother beloved! Shatter the chains of thy thraldom past! Ransom thy captives and raise thy fallen! Fold to thy bosom thy sons outcast! Rise in the might of thine ancient splendour! Shout for thy great Release, at last!(31)

Winslow left India in 1934, troubled by conflict within the ashram and strongly attracted by the Oxford Group movement (later called Moral Rearmament). He returned to England and took up parish work, broadcasting, and writing. Later he became chaplain of Bryanstone School. From 1948 to 1962 he served as the first chaplain to the great evangelistic center at Lee Abbey in North Devon. He died May 29, 1974, at the age of 92.

Winslow's legacy has been variously assessed. Archbishop William Temple, who wrote the foreword to The Dawn of Indian Freedom, and who took a close interest in Winslow's work, saw him as a great interpreter of the Indian mind to England.(32) Andrew Webb describes him as an "erratic genius" who nevertheless best enshrined the fulfillment theology of the period.(33) Winslow, however, always saw himself as an evangelist. Although he was ahead of his time in his attitude to Hinduism and although he played a major part in the development of the Christian ashram movement and indigenous expressions of faith and worship, he argued that he did so as an evangelist. It is in this light that we best understand Winslow's frequent quotation from Dean Inge describing the ideal missionary: "What we most need in all our missionary work is a few saints, a few men who are really living such a life as apostles of Christ ought to live."


1. Eric J. Sharpe, Not to Destroy but to Fulfil: The Contribution of J. N. Farquhar to Protestant Missionary Thought in India Before 1914 (Uppsala: Gleerup, 1965), p. 360. In addition to Winslow, Sharpe lists E. Stanley Jones, W. S. Urquhart, John McKenzie, H. W. Schomerus, E. C. Dewick, H. A. Popley, and Karl Hartenstein.

2. R. Tribe, "The Religious Community as a Missionary Instrument," in Essays Catholic and Missionary, ed. E. R. Morgan (London: SPCK, 1928), pp. 304-5; Cyril Modak, "Impressions of the Christa Seva Sangh Ashram," Bombay Diocesan Magazine 10, no. 2 (September 1928): 90; "Christa Seva Sangh: The New Venture for Christ in India," Church Times, October 14, 1927, p. 423.

3. A. D. Webb, "The Origin, Aims, and Development of the Christa Seva Sangh Ashram, 1922-34" (M.A. thesis, School of Oriental and African Studies, Univ. of London, 1977); Barbara Noreen, Crossroads of the Spirit (Delhi: ISPCK, 1994).

4. John K. Fairbank, "Assignment for the '70's," American Historical Review 74 (1969): 876-79.

5. Webb, "Origin," pp. 2, 11.

6. In December 1914 Winslow passed the first examination in Marathi with the highest marks of any candidate. See Proceedings of a meeting of the Bombay Diocese Committee, SPG, held on Tuesday, 8 December 1914, United Society for the Propagation of the Gospel archives (hereafter USPG), CLR/8.

7. J. C. Winslow, Narayan Vaman Tilak: The Christian Poet of Maharashtra (Calcutta: Association Press, 1928), pp. 34-37.

8. J. C. Winslow, The Eyelids of the Dawn (London: Hodder & Stoughton, 1954), p. 67.

9. J. C. Winslow, The Indian Mystic (London: Student Christian Movement, 1926), p. 70.

10. Winslow and Ratcliff were assisted by an Indian colleague, Dinkar Athavale, and Major J. E. G. Festing of the Royal Engineers.

11. Some of the changes included a greater emphasis upon contemplation and adoration, reverence for the saints, and the sacrificial aspect of the Eucharist. A large place was also given to ceremony, color, movement, and gesture.

12. J. C. Winslow, The Eucharist in India: A Plea for a Distinctive Liturgy for the Indian Church, with a Suggested Form (London: Longmans, Green, 1920), pp. xiii-xiv.

13. Winslow, The Eyelids of the Dawn, pp. 74-78.

14. The Indian Social Reformer 30, no. 24 (February 15, 1920): 377-78; see also "Christian Missionaries and the Jhallianwala Massacre," Indian Social Reformer 30, no. 25 (February 22, 1920): 394.

15. J. C. Winslow, Christa Seva Sangh (Westminster: SPG, 1930), p. 11. Winslow never married; he took a vow of celibacy in April 1928.

16. Ernest Raymond, Under Wedgery Down (London: Cassell, 1974), p. 191. Part 3 of Raymond's semihistorical novel deals with Christa Seva Sangh and accurately captures Winslow's concerns.

17. J. C. Winslow, "A Vision of the Indian Church," International Review of Missions 9 (April 1920): 247-48. The whole system, according to Winslow, was "not unlike a Presbyterian system, crowned by a constitutional Episcopate."

18. Ibid., pp. 248-249.

19. They are given in Winslow, Christa Seva Sangh, pp. 18-33; idem, "The Early Days of Christa Seva Sangh," Ashram Review 12, no. 51 (July 1947): 3-8. More recent accounts of Christa Seva Sangh are Webb's thesis, "Origins"; idem, "The Christa Seva Sangh Ashram, 19221934," South Asia Research, no. 1 (May 1981): 37-52; Noreen, Crossroads of the Spirit; W. Lash, "Monastic Experiment in India" (unpublished ms., Hilfield Friary, Dorset, ca. 1974), p. 1.

20. "Report of the Rev. J. C. Winslow, Missionary at Ahmednagar, Diocese of Bombay. For the Year Ending Dec. 31, 1922," USPG, CLR/9.

21. J. C. Winslow, Christian Yoga; or, The Threefold Path of Union with God (Westminster: SPG House, 1923), pp. 4-5. For other works dealing with mysticism, see E. C. Gregory, "The Message of the Christian Mystics for India," The East and the West, 13 (October 1915): 386; E. Underhill, "Christianity and the Claims of Other Religions," in Essays Catholic and Missionary, ed. E. R. Morgan (London: SPCK, 1928), p. 38.

22. A not entirely satisfactory biography of Robertson is that of Father Denis, Father Algy (London: Hodder & Stoughton, 1964).

23. "Christa Seva Sangh," p. 423; R. Tribe, "The Religious Community," pp. 304-5; Sir Francis Younghusband, "Foreign Missions" (address given at Coversham, November 27, 1927, p. 5; India Office Library and Records, MSS. Eur. F. 197/389).

24. "Christa Seva Sangh," p. 423.

25. V. Elwin, The Tribal World of Verrier Elwin (Delhi: Oxford Univ. Press, 1989), pp. 36, 96.

26. See J. C. Winslow's article "Intelligentsia," in The Christian Task in India, ed. John McKenzie (London, Macmillian, 1929), pp. 10-26; idem, "The Approach to the Intelligentsia," Church Overseas 4, no. 13 (January 1931): 10-19.

27. "Christa Seva Sangh," Servant of Christ, no. 1, Feast of the Perfection, 1928, C. 210, CSS Logbook, vol. 1.

28. "Christ Seva Sangh," Bombay Diocesan Magazine 9, no. 12 (July 1928): 430-31.

29. Winslow opposed the government's actions in extracting pledges from non-British missionaries not to engage in political matters, and in bringing pressure upon British missionaries who took an independent line.

30. J. C. Winslow and V. Elwin, The Dawn of Indian Freedom (London: George Allen & Unwin, 1931), pp. 14, 17, and chap. 1.

31. Winslow, The Eyelids of the Dawn, p. 50.

32. Winslow, Dawn of Indian Freedom, p. 9.

33. Webb, "The Christa Seva Sangh Ashram," p. 45.

Selected Bibliography

Material Written by Winslow

1920 The Eucharist in India: A Plea for a Distinctive Liturgy for the Indian Church, with a Suggested Form. London: Longmans, Green.

1920 "A Vision of the Indian Church." International Review of Missions 9 (April): 247-51.

1923 "A Christian Fellowship for Hindus." Mission Field 68 (March): 63-65.

1923 "The Problem of Self-Support in the Mission Field." The East and the West 21 (April): 112-19.

1923 "Not Leaders, but Saints and Servants." International Review of Missions 12 (July): 434-40.

1923 Christian Yoga; or, The Threefold Path of Union with God. Westminster: SPG House.

1923 Narayan Vaman Tilak: The Christian Poet of Maharashtra. Calcutta: Association Press.

1924 "Indian Ashrams." Church Missionary Review 85 (March): 27-34.

1925 "An Indian Christian Ashram." Mission Field 70 (December): 270-72.

1926 "Evangelization and Proselytism." Young Men of India 28, no. 6 (June): 388-94.

1926 "Christian Approach to Non-Christian Religions." The East and the West 24 (October): 313-16.

1926 The Indian Mystic: Some Thoughts on India's Contribution to Christianity. London: Student Christian Movement.

1927 Introduction to Gilbert Shaw's Prayers and Meditations for the Lovers of Jesus (Founded on the Early English Treatise Entitled A Talkynge of the Love of God). London: A. R. Mowbray.

1929 "The Intelligentsia." In The Christian Task in India, ed. John McKenzie, pp. 10-26. London: Macmillan.

1931 Christa Seva Sangha. Westminster: SPG.

1931 "Indian Swaraj and the Christian Church." Mission Field 76 (December): pp. 275-77.

1932 "Is Reconciliation Possible?" C.S.S. Review 2, no. 4 (April): 105-7.

1932 "S. Barnabas and Christ Seva Sangha." C.S.S. Review 2, no. 6 (June): 161-64.

1932 "A Great Spiritual Autobiography." C.S.S. Review 2, no. 9 (September): 254-58.

1932 "Christians and the Communal Award." C.S.S. Review 2, no. 11 (November): 317-19.

1932 "The Poona Christian Conference." C.S.S. Review 2, no. 12 (December): 356-57.

1933 "Re-Thinking Missions." C.S.S. Review 3, no. 5 (May): 149-51.

1947 "The Early Days of Christa Seva Sangha." Ashram Review 12, no. 51 (July): 3-8.

1954 The Eyelids of the Dawn: Memories, Reflections, and Hopes. London: Hodder & Stoughton.

1958 The Christian Approach to the Hindu. Guildford: Lutterworth Press.

1974 A Testament of Thanksgiving. London: Hodder & Stoughton.

Materials Written About Winslow

1934 Edwards, J.F. "John Copley Winslow's Christian Message." C.S.S. Review 4, no. 1 (July): 17-19.

1977 Webb, A. D. "The Origins, Aims, and Development of the Christa Seva Sangh Ashram, 1922-34." M.A. thesis, School of Oriental and African Studies, Univ. of London.

1981 Webb, A. D. "The Christa Seva Sangh Ashram, 1922-1934." South Asia Research, no. 1 (May): 37-52.

1994 Emilsen, William W. Violence and Atonement: The Missionary Experiences of Mohandas Gandhi, Samuel Stokes and Verrier Elwin in India before 1935. Frankfurt am Main: Peter Lang.

1994 Noreen, Barbara. Crossroads of the Spirit. Delhi: ISPCK. An earlier, expanded version was privately printed in 1986 under the title "A Wheat Grain Sown in India."

William W. Emilsen lectures in church history and world religions at the United Theological College, North Parramatta, Sydney, Australia. He has written on Christianity in India and published The India of My Dreams: Samuel Stoke's Challenge to Christian Missions (ISPCK, 1995).
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Title Annotation:1882-1974
Author:Emilsen, William W.
Publication:International Bulletin of Missionary Research
Date:Jan 1, 1997
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