No better time for a closed church to re-open for mass than Christmas, no better place for a church to be situated other than a height overlooking the Dal Lake in Srinagar city.
St Luke's church was built by Neve brothers, Dr Earnest Neve and Dr Arthur Neve in 1896 in the Dalgate area of Srinagar city close to the chest diseases hospital in the locality.
These two Britishers were the pioneers of modern allopathic medicine in Kashmir.
It was because of the huge goodwill the two had in Srinagar that locals are known to have lent a helping hand in building the church. Typical of the buildings of colonial India, the church is a stone and brick masonry structure.
The church was dedicated by the bishop of Lahore on December 12, 1896. The foundation stone engraved by Dr Earnest and Dr Arthur Neve is inside the church wall.
It reads, "To The Glory of God. As A Witness To Kashmir dedicated by The Bishop of Lahore".
Travel memoirs say there were great celebrations in missionary circles when Bishop Matthew of Lahore came to consecrate the three Anglican churches that had been built in Kashmir, two in Srinagar and a small one in Gulmarg for visitors.
The Kashmir Mission Hospital, which started in 1874, was the valley first modern medical facility opened by the Church Missionary Society of England. The Neve brothers were also the first doctors behind introducing vaccination against epidemics in Kashmir.
The church remained open till 1986-87 and every morning prayers would be held in the church. Till 1986 a British priest was also available for the visiting worshippers at the church. The church was closed in the beginning of 1990s when armed violence began in Kashmir. In 2016, the local Christian community and priests approached the J&K administration seeking renovation of the church so that it could be re-opened while maintaining its old design.
The church renovation was brought under the Smart City mission and funds were made available to the tourism department which subsequently started the renovation last year in coordination with the members of the Christian community.
Once again on Christmas eve bells will start tolling from this church beckoning worshippers for prayers. Re-opening of the church would be a good omen to usher in peace and prosperity for Kashmir in 2022.
The other two churches in Srinagar city, the holy Catholic family church on the Maulana Azad Road and the one in the high security church lane, however, remained functional despite militancy. There are two more famous churches in Kashmir, one in the ski resort of Gulmarg and the other in Baramulla town close to St Joseph Christian missionary school in the town.