The day started with an unusual glee at the Sevananilayam on Oct 8th with smiling friends of the nilayam slowly trickling in into a small happy crowd in the chapel. Sevananilayam was waking up with an unusual vigor to gleefully celebrate the birthday of its Founder father Bishop Sam Mathew. The bishop humbly chose to celebrate his 75th birthday with the suffering inmates and out mates of Sevananilayam – his ‘step-pet child’. Ascension church committee and its Nilayam board members were only too eager to light the candle up for their dear bishop to blow out who had taken their names to fame far and wide through this pet child. And they thought it would very befitting to thank God in a thanks giving service for this bishop, ‘the human grace from above’ of the Sevananilayam.
Chaplain Rev. Dn. Abraham Sathyanathan led the thanks giving service, the first one of his clergy life, a good start for him to remember. The occasion attained State govt. recognition when Hon. Minster of Revenue Mr. Thiruvanchor Radhakrishnan showed up, congratulated the bishop and lent a helping hand at the breakfast table alongside the birthday boy. At the short meeting after the service Mr. M. J. Jacob presented the birthday flower basket. Bishop and wife Kunjamma cut the birthday cake. Mr. George Verghese felicitated the bishop. He remembered how the youth 32 years ago, he himself included, was skeptical about the future of this ‘sevanam’ nilayam along with the murmurs and opposes from other various sectors. The vicar Rev. Dr. M. P. Joseph reinstated ‘only if we give will we receive’. To substantiate he described the recent incident of a person from the Pentecostal belief donated (which rarely happen) Rs. 68,000/- to the welfare of our cancer patients.
The Bishop in his turn of thanks remembered the growth of Sevananilayam starting from the incident that dropped this thought in his mind. A small child of one of our church member had died in a gruesome road accident and the bishop recollected the difficulties he, the family and others faced while waiting trying to get the body released after post mortem. The thought of a sort of ‘sanctuary’ for people of all religions in times of uncertainty like that dawned in his mind and the thought for a sort of universal church. Mr. T. N. George Benjamin (Chinnakuttychayan, the then choir master) remembered this property that belonged to the diocese and the then Bishop Rt. Rev. Dr. M. M. John offered it to us, – that lay forgotten and wasted as a ‘waste pit’ with all the ‘wastes of the society’. There was hardly a name sake ‘foot path’ between slum huts as approach. Miracles happen when God initiates. Thirty two years later out of this waste stands Sevanananilayam proudly as a beacon and console for the hundreds of destitute coming to the medical college hospital, high above the several others such institutions that have sprung during the later years. Bishop Sam remembered that the ‘Bethseda’ of Vellore medical college is an off shoot of Sevananilayam (among many others that followed), another sanctuary he himself initiated while he was the head of the Madhya Kerala Diocese.
Assistant vicar Rev. Verghese Mathew offered the closing prayer and with the bishop’s blessings the gathering climbed up to the Chaplain’s parsonage for an in-house breakfast there, but not before the high highlight of the day, the inauguration of the newly (officially) starting counseling center. Bishop Sam cut the ribbon to the ‘Counseling clinic’ and ‘prayed it open’, another birthday present to the founder-father from Ascension Church. No doubt, all the attendees and Bishop Sam enjoyed his 75th birthday – a worthy birthday indeed.