We Anglicans belong to a brotherhood of independent national churches where the Archbishop of Canterbury is primus inter pares – the first among equals – among the Archbishops of the national Anglican Churches. Formally he is The Most Reverend and Right Honourable Justin Welby, Lord Archbishop of Canterbury.
Upon arrival the Archbishop was greeted at Bandaranaike International Airport by church elders and government leaders such as John Amaratunge.
It was with great excitement that we welcomed the Archbishop on his three-day visit on the 29th in Colombo and surroundings, and 30th mainly in Kurunagala. It was a great event that included our two bishoprics in Colombo and Kurunagala.
I attended the Colombo event – a gala event of such grandiose proportions that I must say in my exuberance that only Anglicans can put together such a show. The cathedral was full and overflowing into the precincts outside. Chairs were in hot demand. That reserved for John Amaratunge was unused and others were asking for it but were told that John Amaratunge said he was coming so it should be kept for him. I did not see him until at the dinner later. Ambassador Ravinatha Aryasinha was on the first row. Next to him the Bishop’s wife Harshini Canagasabey was seated with the new British High commissioner, Sarah Hulton, OBE, who was mentioned by the Archbishop many times, asking us to say hello to her.
The 29th happened to be the Feast of Saint John the Baptist, the earliest Christian Martyr. As such the liturgical color for the day was crimson, and it seemed that the priests and the choir were all dressed up to cheer Mahinda Rajapaksa in his trademark shawl for the elections coming soon. The Archbishop would meet him the next day, the 30th.
His Grace’s sermon touched on many themes like reconciliation but kept focus on John the Baptist. Mentioning that John was from an illustrious line of priests, he said that John could have easily become a priest and relaxed because the job involves little work with a lot of pay. It evoked smiles from those aware of the controversy over the Colombo Diocese Standing Committee assigning Rs. 7 to 10 million, even a Mercedes Benz, for the 4 archdeacons. Instead John chose to be a Prophet, which involves hard work and sacrifice. John was beheaded because he had promised anything she wanted to his sister-in-law’s child “who had pleased him.”
Earlier on in the day, the Most Rev. Welby, was received by Roman Catholic Archbishop Malcolm Ranjith at St Sebastian’s Church Katuwapitiya where over 100 people were murdered in the Easter Sunday bombings. In his sermon at the Cathedral, Archbishop Welby condemned the killings saying he was appalled by the pockmarks from ball-bearings from the bombs, adding that it was as obscene to kill families having fellowship with each other over breakfast at hotels that same day. He said being a prophet is hard and requires sacrifice. Forgiveness and reconciliation are hard but important. He encouraged Sri Lankans, expressing confidence in us saying we are resilient and strong despite so much difficulty.
The mass was beautiful but trilingual. I say but because the service booklet was often in English script making us lost as to what we were praying for – talking to God was lost as the Archbishop advised: “Tell God what you are feeling and talk to Him.”
The two lapses are:
1. The cathedral architecture was all Sinhalese, as were the trumpets and fans carried by servers.
2. The Bishop in Jaffna, The Rt. Rev, Daniel Thiagarajah, although an active Anglican Bishop, was not invited to participate in the mass as other retired Anglican Bishops like Kenneth Fernando were. It is interesting that Bishop Kenneth Fernando invited The Rt. Rev. S. Jebanesan to join the Church of Ceylon as our third bishop. Says Jebanesan that Bishop Kenneth told him “As the most senior Bishop you will be our Primate.” But despite the attractions of being Archbishop, the Jaffna Diocese felt it would not be in control of its own affairs as it is now, and that the archbishop position is merely ephemeral. Is Bishop Thiagarajah good enough to be Primate but not good enough to celebrate mass with our Anglican Bishops?
Any way my daughter who reluctantly accompanied me as my wife is away, and I needed someone to butter my bread and cut hard foods because of my broken left arm, said she was very glad she came – it was fantastic. Bishop Canagasabey kindly intervened when at the time I RSVP-ed, I was denied my vegetarian plate saying the menu is fixed and cannot be changed, and denied a place for my daughter in my wife’s place saying only the spouse can come. The Bishop reflects the kindly face of a militaristically administered intolerant Church.
Everyone got a dinner bag (the main item being a sausage roll and a meat sandwich with no options for vegetarians). Invitees were treated to a served many-course sit down dinner at BMICH catered by Mount Lavinia Hotel. Mayoress of Colombo Rosie Senanayake was present among other dignitaries.
After dinner, speech time was a little more controversial. We being made up of 2 dioceses and requiring more to be a province, we remain extra-provincial, explaining why we are under Canterbury without a directly appointed Archbishop of the Church of Ceylon. So the two dioceses from the top have been pushing for more dioceses although all signs are that ordinary Anglicans do not want more dioceses because the church hierarchy has a high life style, passing Rs. 70 to 100 lakhs per car for archdeacons (Colombo Diocese having 4 archdeacons at present). This is at a time when Kilinochchi’s Karunanilayam for unwed mothers and other dispossessed females has had foreign funding cut and the church is appealing to us for donations suggested at Rs. 3 lakhs per month for food. And then there will be episcopal palaces, just as retired bishops always speaking for social justice have successfully got brand new cars for themselves, perks usually not available to retired people except Heads of State.
While the Standing Committee condemns me for leaking this, I ask this: “If you think taking this money is exercising proper fiduciary responsibility, why hide it and not make a statement justifying this huge expense? Till then I will have zero respect for any archdeacon who buys himself such a fancy car, and I will not make any huge contribution to the Church. Was it not our Archbishop himself who said in his sermon that there is largesse to priests without work?
To get to the point, there are resolutions coming up at the Diocesan Council in October for and against making us a Province. The Daily News of 22 July had announced that the Archbishop’s visit is related to the creation of a Province of the Anglican Church. The Archbishop could not be seen to be entering a controversial internal debate. So the Church flexed its muscles and I understand the Daily News on 30 July reluctantly published a denial: “We, the Bishops of the Church of Ceylon wish to state categorically that the visit of His Grace, the Archbishop of Canterbury, to Sri Lanka is a solidarity visit he is making as the Metropolitan of the Church of Ceylon, in the aftermath of the Easter Sunday incidents. This visit is not in any way related to the creation of a Province of the Anglican Church, as mentioned in the article.”
However, despite the denial, the Archbishop got a little carried away – although no liquor was served on the 29th – saying he should not interfere in the work of Committees working on the subject but he looks forward to the emergence of a new Province. Even more controversially he said it is good to remove the English face from the Church. The Archbishop I notice had removed his shoes while celebrating the mass and was barefooted perhaps to respect the feelings of some. But we were the Church of England in Ceylon. Many good things are part of our heritage. Our faith is from the Middle East via Rome and England. We cannot change that without changing our faith. Would we ask Buddhists to remove their Pali texts because they are from India? We take the best from everywhere.
The Archbishop is scheduled to visit the Temple of the Tooth Relic and to call on the Chief Prelates of the Malwatte and Asgiriya chapters on the 30th. If the Archbishop took his advice seriously he would find himself in violation of the second and Third Commandments as did Cardinal Malcolm Ranjith:
3. Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image