My dear Fellow Travellers,
Welcome to two days of encounter in body, mind, and spirit. I am conscious that this is far from ideal. If we are to meet as one family, the onus is on us to create a safe and healthy environment for all. It is the responsibility of each one of us when we chose to move outside our homes and how we chose to travel. Being carefree and happy go lucky will put ourselves and others at risk. Freedom of movement comes at a very high cost of infection. Presently, we are called upon to be conscious of our neighbors’ health needs before we venture out of our homes. To those who have been able to brave the odds and are at one of the session Centers, I bid you welcome to the 136th sessions of the Diocesan Council.
A Time of Uncertainty and Cancellations
We have lived through a year that posed many challenges. As a faith community, we could not meet for worship. We were unable to gather for other parish activities as well. Parishes could not hold their Annual General Meetings, while other events had to be postponed or scaled down. We learned how to meet remotely. We are an electronic community speaking a different language and getting better at it by the day. Clergy are conscious that members of the community may not be reachable. Due to connectivity issues, they are mindful when organizing programs. Today we consider “our reach.” Previously we catered to those who came. Parishes have taken the trouble to work with service providers to keep their people connected. For many, electronic churches is beyond them, but a more personal and physical encounter is not an option yet. What is good in an emergency should not become a way of life.
We could not keep to our calendars due to the uncertainty that prevailed. Many parish visits and services of Confirmation had to be given alternate dates.
We drew the attention of the health authorities to their insensitive decision making on the regulations about places of worship. When the entire country opened up with certain restrictions, places of worship remained closed. Our response to the pandemic must not be one in which we show preferences to some while restricting others. We need to take collective responsibility to ensure that we safeguard the dignity and rights of all people.
The Theme of the Council
The theme of the World Council of Churches General Assembly 2022 in Karlsruhe Germany is, Christ’s love moves the world to reconciliation and unity. The pandemic has made us look at life very differently. The slogan is social distancing. As a council, we are called upon to look at healing, the social and economic dimension that comes with it.
Isolation and lockdowns are the realities that have governed our lives these past several months.
To come alongside people in their time of need should be our response as interdependent people. We look for ways of isolating ourselves rather than rallying around. Solidarity teaches us an important lesson. If I reach my destination by myself, I am alone. If I recognize a fellow traveler and my journey is slow because I stop on the way and that too several times. My walk has been worthwhile. Often, we are called alongside someone. We hear, see and respond. The good Samaritan teaches us to look only at the nakedness and not the identity of the one who is on the road. Ask for nothing in return. Make the situation of the other our own.
We have become more fervent in prayer for those in the frontlines of medical care. Healing is God’s work. Caring is the work of everyone around us. We have heard of people who cared for patients with COVID putting themselves at risk. They were responding to human needs. To many who have had no closure, the healing process will take time. Each one is entitled to work it out for themselves at their pace. Solidarity is not offering answers but exercising a ministry of presence.
The church repeatedly calls the State to work for reconciliation and peace among the diverse communities in the country. The long road to reconciliation and unity cannot be marred by successive governments using terror tactics to suppress the voice of people. The call to build trust among all communities is a gospel imperative. For the cause of unity and justice, there is no rest. We cannot hope to live in peace unless we have done our part and live in a way that others can live in peace. Reconciliation is our ongoing task. There is no rest.
175th Anniversary of the Diocese of Colombo
Regional services were held and a prayer book for children by the Board of Christian Education were published. Other diocesan organizations conducted programs to commemorate the event. The history of the diocese will be updated and printed early next year. The Diocese of Kurunagala had a service and the concluding service in Colombo was held on the 7th of November with several parishes participating online. It was an unusual liturgical experience that connected the diocesan family.
We wrote to all parishes requesting them to write a brief history. This exercise will help in compiling the history of the diocese.
Eightieth Anniversary of the CCYM
The Church of Ceylon Youth Movement’s (CCYM) eightieth year concluded with a thanksgiving service in the Cathedral.
Youth who play a vital role in most parishes have been at the forefront of virtual services and other activities.
The youth should be engaged in defining the way forward. We have got through the first year of this decade. A participatory role by them that is complementary to the efforts of others and which is life-giving is desirous.
Formation is vital for this, and will give guidance to our youth. It is a must for the church that embraces change.
Parish Pastoral Teams
We need to equip the entire people of God to engage in mission. For too long we have been saying that we must free ourselves from being a clergy dependent church. On the one hand, it is encouraging to see lay people taking responsibility in parishes. On the other, some formal training will further equip them. Through the Cathedral Institute for Education and Formation (CIEF), relevant programs for parishes will be made available. If we are to be a vibrant and mission-oriented church, we must be a learning and discerning church.
Lambeth Conversations and Preparations as a Diocese
The theme of the Lambeth Conference of July – August 2022. Is “God’s Church for God’s World – walking, listening, and witnessing together”.
The Anglican/Episcopal Bishops prepare with their dioceses to address the theme from within their contexts. 1 Peter being the biblical text for study.
Monthly conversations have enabled small groups of bishops to come together for study and reflection. These will help create friendships as a buildup to the conference.
The 2021 United Nations Climate Change Conference, more commonly referred to as COP26, is included in the bishops’ conversations for study. A special webinar for bishops has been organized with experts on the 29th of November. There is a sense of urgency, along with a worldwide commitment to address climate change and related issues.
The recent weather patterns and the threat to life as a whole due to human originated disasters is a clear wake-up call.
The sinking of The Singapore-flagged MV X-Press Pearl off Colombo has caused much damage to the environment the consequences of which successive generations will have to suffer due to wrong decisions and negligence on the part of those before them.
New Delhi was forced to close down schools, not due to COVID but due to smog and haze which, tells us that unless there is a change in lifestyles, we have little or no chance of saving planet earth.
As part of the hundred and seventy-fifth-anniversary events, planting trees in church compounds and home gardens is encouraged by CEMET.
Education amidst COVID
The impact of COVID on education is still not assessed. Private and International schools commenced online learning. The vast majority of the student population was left at the mercy of unscrupulous tuition teachers or to their own devices. Most Parents found themselves unable to help due to a gap in knowledge and little or no help from the education sector.
Attempts to use TV channels as an accessible means provided some learning. Education, on the whole, was left to the parents and children.
As schools limp back, a very different student returns to begin an unusual school routine. Examinations are thrust upon them as a means of assessing the helpless child and, parents struggle to keep up to these expectations.
Online work for parents and learning for children found parents and children working to the dictates of people and institutions that controlled their time, leisure, and privacy.
A Creative Approach to learning is the way forward. We need to seek a more collaborative, contextual, exploratory, emotional, and expressional, life skill- based learning. Our schools and homes primarily must generate happiness. They must become happy schools and happy homes.
The Economic Debacle
People have found that they cannot make ends meet. More people are falling through the safety net into abject poverty. The scarcity of essential items such as powdered milk and shortages in gas revealed a bungling of the economy. With severe restrictions on imports due to very limited foreign exchange reserves, the country will have to seek bailouts which will further plunge the nation into debt.
With the ban on inorganic fertilizer and agrochemicals, farmers have found it impossible to engage in cultivation. Some have abandoned it altogether.
Youth who queued up to get the relevant documents to leave the country said they do not see a stable future for them in the island.
The government passed the budget for 2022 with 153 votes.
The COVID Vaccination Program
The government and the health authorities must be commended for the vaccination program carried out throughout the country.
The setting up of quarantine centers and the care of patients brought down the number of deaths that suddenly went up considerably due to the Delta variant.
All sections of the community need to respond positively as this health crisis is not over. Hospitals need to be equipped and developed with trained personnel.
Psychological support for families with no closure and stigmatized for contracting the virus must be made available. The church with people of all faiths can find itself supporting the healing process.
One Country One Law
Amidst the health and economic crises, a presidential task force was gazetted and came into being to look at the implementation of this election promise. It did not initially have representatives of all communities and sections.
Heads of denominations through the National Christian Council of Sri Lanka voiced their concern. The NCC had previously made representations to a panel headed by Mr. Romesh de Silva on Constitutional reform and discussed the need for justice within a constitutional framework that safeguarded the rights of all communities.
Part of our theme for this Council is Reconciliation and Unity. Therefore, building trust among communities is paramount. The setting up of this Task Force has generated fear and mistrust and it must cease to function in its present form.
Our work with people of living faiths and no faith has brought us together on national, social, and ethical issues. The Interfaith Desk organized a time of prayer among faith leaders to pray for the healthcare workers.
We need to journey together to find national unity as we draw from the different religions the tenets that teach us the truths about our neighbor’s faith.
Our journey with churches and organizations that belong to the National Christian Council has provided us the opportunity to pray work towards witnessing together.
With several organizations and churches seeking membership in the NCCSL, we need to redefine our motives and purpose.
Three clergypersons, the Ven. David Nigel Perry Brohier, Revd.Weerahennedige Jayantha Shimal Asiri Jayasuriya and Revd. Jameson Nadarajah Gnanaponrajah, celebrated the 25th anniversary of their ordination to the priesthood this year.
My congratulations, blessings and prayers to all of them on this significant milestone in their lives, of service to God, His people and the Church.
As they look forward to continuing their ministry in the years ahead, I thank God for their families as well, for the patience, understanding and support given to them throughout this long period.
Into Fuller Life
Revd. Joseph Selvaratnam Charles
Rev. Joseph Selvaratnam Charles was born into a family of seven in 1942. He obeyed the call to the ordained ministry in 1972 and dedicated himself to his duties as a faithful priest, serving in many parishes during his ministry until his retirement at the age of 70. He married Monica in 1975 and they were blessed with 2 children.
We thank God for his faithfulness to his servant, whom he called to rest on 12th April 2021.
May God grant Monica and their children, Daphne & Bertrum the comfort and strength they need to come to terms with the loss of Fr. Charles.
Revd. Samuel Chandrasekeran Crispus
Father Chandran Crispus was a man of God who responded to God’s calling with a deep sense of vocation. He was ordained to the Priesthood in 1999. His cheerful, friendly and welcoming nature endeared him to all who came in contact with him. He was a tireless worker with a caring heart who played a very significant role in the work of the Church in the Batticaloa District during the tsunami and the long years of war.
After his transfer to Colombo, he served with great acceptance as the Chaplain of the Mission to Seafarers.
He was married to Violet and was father to two children, Divya and Sathyan.
Rev. Chandran was called to rest on 8th May 2021, after a sudden and brief illness.
We uphold his family in our prayers, as they grieve his absence in their lives.
Mr. Suren Goonesekera
Suren Goonesekera hailing from Moratuwa was a vibrant and well-known personality in the Diocese. He was a member of the Standing Committee for many years, served in several Committees and Boards of the Diocese, especially the Diocesan Missionary Council and was the long serving and indefatigable Secretary of the Board of Social Responsibility. Suren had a warm heart and deep concern for the underprivileged and this was seen in his tireless work during disaster situations.
Suren was married to Charmaine and they were active members of St. Stephen’s Church, Negombo where he held many responsibilities
He was called to his eternal rest on 14th August 2021, leaving behind his beloved wife Charmaine and children Erajni and Shehani.
We uphold his wife, children and grandchildren in our prayers, as they attempt to come to terms with his sudden death.
Bernard faithfully served the Diocese of Colombo as the Chief Clerk for 38 years and retired in 1990. We remember with gratitude, his long and devoted association with us.
After his retirement, he worked in the parish of St. Francis of Assisi Mount Lavinia for several years, giving of his knowledge and many years of experience.
He was called to his eternal rest in 2021.
My heartfelt condolences and those of the Diocese to his daughter and the family.
We fondly remember Anthony, who served as the Sexton of the Cathedral which he joined in 1973 right at the inception and continued his unbroken service for 44 years until his retirement in 2017.
He was a devoted worker who could always be found at the Cathedral and whose unobtrusive, dignified presence enhanced any event.
Anthony was called to his eternal rest on 27th April 2021. He will remain in the memory of those who knew him as the ‘guardian angel’ of the Cathedral.
We continue to uphold his wife and children in our prayers and commit them all God’s care.
The year ahead will see us taking steps towards setting up multiple dioceses. The Steering Committee has set out a road map to make this possible.
Every man, woman, and youth will have an opportunity to make their representations. Our first step is to create awareness. Secondly, to create space for people to share in the process towards setting up of these dioceses.
Thanks be to God for a year of guidance and sustaining grace that has seen us through the worst of the pandemic.
To the Registrar Mr. Harshana Perera and the Standing Legal Advisor Mr. Rohan Edrisinha for the valuable counsel and guidance at all times.
Ms. Nadhie Wanduragala for her patience and dealing with all situations and people, and leaving me to talk to none. Ms. Jeevanam Watson for being Aladin with the lamp. Ms. Kaushika de Silva for convincing the parishes and clergy to change dates and times to suit the needs of all.
Ms. Rebecca Yeman is the head, heart, and soul behind the Green Book. Mr. Arun Gamalatge reminds me that no task is complete and that the day never ends.
The Archdeacons and Area Deans for coordinating the regions and keeping the wheels of mission turning.
Mr. Chaminda Soysa and Mr. Rohitha Kumara for being the guardian angels who travel with me within the diocese.
Lakshmi and Timothy who make sure that I have more tea in my veins than blood.
All diocesan office staff and the Cathedral staff who adds sense to the work that is nearly impossible.
Shehara for her patience and willingness to put up with my absence.
*136th Diocesan Council: Address of the Bishop of Colombo, The Right Reverend Dushantha Rodrigo – 26th November 2021