The Rt. Rev David Gnaniah Pothirajulu, a prominent Indian Church leader and a committed ecumenist and missiologist, passed away on Saturday 5 September 2020 in Madurai, Tamil Nadu. He was 84 years old.
Served as a pastor, preacher, and theological educator, Pothirajulu became the third bishop of the Madurai-Ramnad Diocese of the Church of South India (CSI) in 1978, and continued until he voluntarily relinquished the bishopric in 1994. He was Deputy Moderator of the CSI from 1988 to 1990.
Expressing his deep condolences on the passing away of Bishop Pothirajulu, CCA General Secretary Dr Mathews George Chunakara stated, “Bishop Pothirajulu was deeply committed to propagate the values of the gospel, and this Indian church leader demonstrated his great passion for mission and ecumenism until his death. He was constantly engaged in a special ministry of enabling people and communities at grassroots in mission and evangelism for more than half a century.”
“An alumnus of the first batch of the Course for Leadership in Lay Training (CLLT) of the World Council of Churches (WCC) in the 1960s, Bishop Pothirajulu passionately promoted ecumenism and lay leadership. He was instrumental in motivating young faculty members of the Lady Doak College in Madurai to seriously involve themselves in the Asian ecumenical movement through CCA,” said Dr Mathews George Chunakara, who had personally known Bishop Pothirajulu for many years.
The CCA General Secretary said that Bishop Pothirajulu often wrote to him reminding the need for CCA to address some of the relevant missiological and ecumenical concerns in Asia.
Upon relinquishing the bishopric in 1994, he concentrated in providing ecumenical formation training through the Community College and Lay Training Center (COLT) he established in Madurai. He collaborated with the network of ecumenical formation training centres in Asia- Association of the Christian Institutes for Social Concerns in Asia (ACISCA), as well as with the global network of academy movement for lay training initiated by the WCC.
Bishop Pothirajulu took a keen interest in enhancing the leadership of women in church and society as well as the lay leadership in the Church. He was closely associated with the CCA’s Mission and Evangelism as well as Ecumenical Education programmes in the 1980s.
He has been deeply engaged in a mission and evangelism project, ‘Mission to Myanmar’ since 2006, especially in facilitating the theological education of Myanmarese refugee students in Bible Colleges in India and encouraging them to return to their own country as missionaries.
He was advocating for developing political consciousness among Indians to develop empathy for the plight of the Rohingya Muslim refugees living in India and impress upon the Indian Government not to deport the Rohingya refugees to Myanmar.
The CCA General Secretary recollected a letter he had received some time back from Bishop Pothirajulu in which he suggested the need for CCA to sensitise the Asian churches to be concerned about the plight of the Myanmar refugees. He articulated his convictions on the rights of the persecuted Myanmar refugees, especially the Chins and Rohingyas, with Biblical and theological undergirding, particularly through “the message of prophet Isaiah which comes out very powerfully in Isaiah 58:7; ‘Is it not to share your bread with the hungry and bring the homeless poor into your house; when you see the naked, to cover him, and not to hide yourself from your own flesh?'”
Bishop Pothirajulu is survived by his wife, two sons, and a daughter. He was buried at the CSI Cemetery, Mahaboobpalayam, Madurai in Tamil Nadu on Sunday 6 September 2020.