ANPIAM: A Brief History of Small Christian Communities in Tamilnadu, India

‘Anpiam’ is the Tamil name for a Small Christian Community (SCC).  The word ‘Anpiam’ has been coined from its root ‘Anpu’ which means ‘Love’.  So the community that experiences, lives and proclaims that Unconditional Love is rightly called ‘Anpiam’ in Tamilnadu. Because humans are saved by love (Spe Salvi, 26).  In the 1980s Anpiam was introduced in few dioceses of Tamilnadu after the emergence of Small Christian Communities in South America.


In 1990 more than 400 Bishops of Asia gathered at Bandung in Indonesia to discern the direction of the Asian Church for the third millennium. At the end of that 5th Plenary Assembly of Federation of Asian Bishops Conferences (FABC), the deliberations of the Asian Bishops gave us the famous ‘Bandung Statement’ which spelled out the vision of ‘New Way of Being Church’ for the Asian Church in the 21st century.  ‘The Church in Asia will have to be Communion of Communities’ was their prophetic statement.  This vision of New Way of Being Church has been spread in all the Asian Churches through ‘AsIPA’ (Asian Integral Pastoral Approach) desk of FABC. This had been contextualized in India as DIIPA (Developing Indian Integral Pastoral Approach) which is the official organ of the CBCI for SCCs in India.


Following the discernment and vision of FABC and CBCI, Tamilnadu Latin Bishops’ Council (TNLBC) had made it mandatory to start and sustain SCCs i.e., Anpiams, in all the parishes in the new millennium.  And we have taken ‘ANPIAM’ as acronym for ‘Animating New Pastoral Integral Approach and Mission’, which contextualizes the vision of FABC through AsIPA and the directives of CBCI through DIIPA, implementing the dreams of TNLBC.



Animating: The Word ‘animation’ comes from the Latin word ‘anima’ which

means soul/spirit. In our animation work we aim at the spirit of ‘oneness of heart and mind’ the first Christians in the Acts of the Apostles experienced. This spirit of oneness is so unique since it comes from the fellowship generated through the Breaking of the Bread together and living a life so totally rooted in the Word. It generated in them zeal to spread the Good News of the Gospel. Our aim too is to help every faithful in our community to experience such deep fellowship through the Eucharist and Word-centered life which will generate in them a zeal to become missionaries for the Lord in their neighborhoods. Our hope is that through regular and sustained formation the Lord will lead us to experience the same ‘anima/spirit’ of the early community.

New          :  By ‘new’ we mean the New Way of Being Church as envisioned

by the Asian Bishops in 1990. They said that the Church in Asia will have to be a Communion of Communities where clergy, laity and religious accept each other as sisters and brothers and collaborate with each other to build up the Body of Christ. (FABC 1990, no.8). SCCs are not an end in itself, but a means to renew the Church all over TN according to this vision given to us by the Asian Bishops and embraced and taught by both CBCI and TNLBC.

Pastoral:  When we speak of ‘pastoral’ we mean holistic development of all in

the Church. We want all to realize that the pastoral mission of the Church belongs to all, clergy, laity and religious, alike. Everyone must realize his/her mission within the community and function as he/she is placed there by the Lord as taught by St. Paul in Eph.4:14-16.

Integral:         Anpiam aims at ‘Integral’ development, the growth of the whole

person and of every person, as the Acts of the Apostles say, ‘there was no needy person in the community’ (Acts. 4:34). The needs of the sick, aged, children, youth, married and unmarried, rich and poor, are all taken care. This will help them grow in the community as children of God with a sense of equality, as disciples of Jesus with profound spirituality.  They become partners in building the Church towards the flowering of the Kingdom of God with missionary mentality.

Approach:      Anpiam is an approach, one way to serve the kingdom plan of God,

but a very effective and biblical way.  This approach has certain characteristics.  1) It is Christ Centered.  We emphasize on Gospel Sharing as the way the community discerns God’s will for them in their life situations and act according to it.  All our lessons are rooted in the Word of God as a source of life and light for their lives. 2) It is community – centered.  We want to move away from the ‘expert centered’ approach to pastoral programmers to ‘the community – centered’ pastoral programmers.  Here, the expert sits with the people, listens to them and lets them participate with him in making the kind of programmers they want to have.  In this way we affirm that ‘the Church is the People of God’.  The so called expert is a servant/animator of the community.  3) In the future Church, as the Asian Bishops said, the experts and leaders are not dominating leaders.  They are not the focal point; Jesus and the community are.  It is the community which will work together and evangelize the neighborhood to make the Kingdom of God present there.  The leaders and pastoral experts are servants and animators of the community.


Mission:  This is the mission of the Church to build up the mystical Body

of Christ for its stability and growth so that she can witness to the living presence of the Risen Lord and cooperate with Him in establishing the Kingdom plan in their own neighborhood.  This is the mission of every member of the Church, for that matter, this is the mission of SCCs themselves. 



The mission and methodology of ‘Anpiam’ is only to ‘Feed the lamb’ and to ‘Take care of the sheep’ (Jn.21:15-17).  It is partaking in the pastoral mission of Our Lord Jesus Christ. His demand is only to better our pastoral ministry to His flock entrusted to us as stewards.  This is implemented only in Anpiams where everyone gets personal attention and a pastoral team joyfully works to fulfill the needs of everyone in the community.  This pastoral team in every Anpiam is ‘New Wineskin’ in which they will be trained to bring new joy and new spirit into the community by providing the food (Word of God) from the Father, which is the ‘New Wine’.  So, to start an ‘Anpiam’ only these basic provisions are needed.  We need to have a proper Pastoral Team that will take the responsibility to provide the Word of God on regular basis to everyone in the community.



Those who are in the Pastoral Team, in the Anpiam, will have specific pastoral work under the guidance of the head pastor i.e., Parish Priest who does not follow his own agenda, but discerns together with the pastoral team what the Spirit of the Risen Lord wants from this community in this context.  The laity has the right to participate in the Pastoral Mission of their Parish Priest, their Bishop, our Holy Father and our Good Shepherd. ‘Anpiams are new ways of pastoral organization to bring Church closer home and to make all participate together in carrying out the mission of the Church locally as the Lord wanted.’




With the introduction and effective sustenance of Anpiams there will emerge a New Spirituality i.e., Spirituality of Communion, which has its foundation in the Holy Trinity.  There is perfect communion, unlimited love for each person, indissoluble bond between each other and coordinated action in the Trinity. Since, Trinitarian Godhead created man in His own image, all those who live in communion with Trinitarian God, are to reflect the same image of love and communion in their own community i.e., Anpiam.  So each one in Anpiam will have the opportunity to experience the unconditional Love of God in the Eucharist, Word of God, ultimately in the mystical body of Christ, the Church i.e., in the brothers and sisters in their own Anpiam. This spirituality will never be individualistic but communitarian, that will accept everyone as they are, as dignified children of God, respect and protect them as equals without any kind of discrimination.  The new spirituality will activate and coordinate the charisms of the Spirit in each person for the good of the community.  Everyone will experience the New Joy flowing from the pastoral coordination and the active involvement of all members of the community, each according to his/her ability and gifts.




There will emerge a new leadership that will commit for service and not for bossing over.  All will realize their call to ‘wash the feet’ of one another  (Jn.13:12-15) in humility.  This includes the leadership of the Bishops, Priests, Religious and Catechists in the Church, who will realize their role as formators and facilitators.  Here the dream of ‘Lay participation in the Life and Mission of the Church’ will come to realization.  By their Baptismal Anointing, they participate in the Common Priesthood, which is the only necessary qualification to participate in the pastoral work in Anpiams and to become missionaries who will be carrying Christ to the hearts of others.  Thus, the servant leadership in the Church will train and empower laity to participate in the Evangelizing mission and Pastoral Ministry of the Church.



According to the varied needs of the Anpiams, there will emerge a need for new ministries.  Now in the Church of Tamilnadu, still there is a need to carry the vision of ‘New Way of Being Church’ to the Presbyteria, Religious Communities and to Anpiams (started as mere structures, used only for collections and decorations).  So, there is a great need to form animators in each Diocese to start and sustain Anpiams.  We need personnel to survey, evaluate and to guide the teams working in the region. These can be seen as New Ministries for the new mission of promotion of Anpiams.  ‘Anpiam Animators’, ‘Formators of Anpiam Animators’ and  ‘Anpiam Coordinators’ can be considered and recognized as new ministries of empowerment in the Church where Anpiam is placed as the pastoral priority.



Pope John Paul II says in Redemptoris Missio No. 51, that SCCs are instruments of Evangelization.  This reminds us of the Nature of the Church.  ‘By nature Church is Missionary’ (Ad Gentes, 6).  ‘The Church exists only to evangelize’ (Evangelium Nuntiandi, 14).  So, the nature of every SCC is missionary and every member of Anpiam is a missionary. They have the right to be respected, trained and enabled to function as good missionaries locally.  And the leaders and the pastoral teams have the responsibility to have programmers that will form them as missionaries who will have ‘Jesus’ in their own heart and carry Him to the hearts of others.  Here we see the need of lay missionaries in Tamilnadu Church.  Only mission-minded Laity, Priests and Religious can build Anpiams that have the missionary nature.  This is the process of re-evangelization in the Church.



It is not sufficient to start an Anpiam, but there must be a person with pastoral concern to see to the growth of the seed planted. 

The first phase is to prepare the ground well by visiting each family in the locality or in the geographical area of that particular Anpiam. ‘Family Visit’ and ‘Person to Person’ encounter, which we call ‘the field work’, is very important. Moreover, the person who visits the family or person is to be a prayerful person, immersed in the Word of God with the heart of the Good Shepherd.  If that person can stay with the people, identify with them as one among them, win their confidence by his life style, then we can be sure that the people will be ready to come together and work together.

The second phase is to gather the people of 15-25 families in the neighborhood and give them the clarity about Anpiam to understand ‘why’ and ‘what’ of Anpiam.

Then we can move to form a pastoral team of seven persons who would be caring for each person and try their best to fulfill the needs of all the persons, of course, under the guidance of the Pastor in the Parish who has the responsibility of building community in the parish.  They will take the responsibility of animating children, youth, couple, elders and sick.  So, there will be Children Animator, Youth Animator, Couple Animators (Husband and Wife), Animator for Elderly and Sick, Prayer Animator and a person in charge of the team and Anpiam called ‘Anpiam – Animator’.  This formation of a pastoral structure in each Anpiam is the third phase. 

The fourth phase will be training for the animators who have the responsibility for the running of the Anpiam and the conducting of the Anpiam Meetings regularly.  So, we need to train them in the Gospel Sharing method, leadership style, the Anpiam – Spirituality and their own responsibility as animators. 

The fifth phase is to make everyone in Anpiam responsible Christians and to prepare them for realizing their vocation according to the plan of God.  They need to be helped to discern their part and charisms and to activate them in the community for its good.

In the sixth phase we teach them to solve their own problems and to make their community a place to live in peace, joy and love, by ministering to each other and ministering to others in their neighborhood. Here they decide for themselves and execute all they decide to do, for the welfare of the community.

Seventh phase is the witnessing community that experiences the love of Christ in everyone and share with everyone the same as the early Christian Community.  It will be a self-ministering, self-governing, self-reliant community.   This community is the concrete incarnation of the One, Holy, Apostolic, and Catholic Church that will transform the society at large. Since in each Anpiam, all the commissions of the Church will be at work, every member of the Anpiam will have their participation in building the Kingdom of God, where God and His love reigns. There will be strong fellowship, deep Gospel Sharing, mission oriented apostolic activities and binding with Universal Church.


The guiding force of an Anpiam is the ‘Anpiam – Meeting’ where the community and the pastoral team will be led by the Word of God. In a house after a warm welcome, all will be seated joyfully around the Word of God, where the Risen Lord is alive. In order to feel the presence of the Holy Trinity among them, they can praise God the Father, Welcome Jesus the Lord and pray to be filled with the Holy Spirit, who is actually the one who builds the community.  This will prepare them to open their hearts to the Word of God, preferably selected by the pastoral team, which is read aloud twice or thrice.  After it is read each one picks up a word or short phrase, which touched their hearts, and proclaims it prayerfully three times with sufficient pause in between. 

Then there will be a time for precious silence when the Lord will encounter each one and speak to them through the Word found from the passage.  After the silence, they can be encouraged to share their personal experience, the reason for taking that word or phrase, and their decision for their personal life. There is no place for explanation or instruction.  Then the ‘Word of Life’ for the community can be discerned in the ‘Anpiam’ and ‘how to put it into action.’  Plan of action, not necessarily a big one, can be arrived at with concrete details such as when?, where?, how?, who?. Then they decide the venue for the next meeting and time.  Previous meeting minutes can be shared and evaluated along with, information about Anpiam, parish, diocese and the Universal Church.  Finally they pray for the grace of God with gratitude without forgetting the presence of Our Blessed Mother.  A simple sharing of tea or coffee can be a good opportunity to bring about fellowship among them.  Once or twice a year they can share a good meal together as a community.



All that are done in Anpiam and for Anpiam must be done with ‘Anpia– mentality’.   And also the principles of creativity, active participation, inculturation are very important in the process.  A steady growth of Anpiam depends on periodical and genuine evaluation.  To evaluate an Anpiam, we can ask the following questions:

  1. Are all the activities ‘Christ – Centered’?
  2. Is every person considered important and taken care of without any discrimination?
  3. Is there strong emphasis on lay participation?
  4. Are all the activities done in a co-responsible way?
  5. Is the leadership non-dominating?
  6. Is the missionary zeal in everyone increasing?
  7. Is there a social transformation around Anpiam?


Rev. S. Panneer Selvam
Secretary, Tamilnadu – ANPIAM
Deepam, Karumandapam,
Tiruchirapalli, India 620 001

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