On 14 Jan. 2020, Vethanayakam Silva Benniya Thuseetharan was instituted and installed as the Principal of CMS St. John’s College. I am a complete product of CMS schools, and of St. John’s from grade 5 to university entrance. This article is about heritage.
CMS Heritage: St. Jon’s is a CMS school. In historical development the Anglicans are low church with little use for rituals and high church, almost Roman Catholic in practice and faith. Nearly all schools taken over from the Dutch in Jaffnawere restored by the CMS in Jaffna. The SJC Church was being used to house goats when the CMS took over. We were under the Bishop of Calcutta, then Madras and finally we had our own Bishop of Colombo in James Chapman (1845-61). Under Elisabeth I’s reforms High Church and Low Church were left to follow their own forms of worship. The CMS having come to Jaffna and to the South, Jaffna was low church. So there were no crosses or flowers on the altar, no raising of the bread after its consecration to indicate the real presence of Christ, no facing East (Jerusalem) in consecrating the elements, etc.
Bishops by nature of their officer exercised episcopal authority being in the line of St. Peter and tend by office to be Catholic (High Church). So as soon a Chapman came, problems had to emerge with the Low Church CMS. In1853 when a foundation stone was to be laid for a CMS Church, Christ Church Galle Face, Chapman’s order of service containing the words “that all evil may depart from the place wherein the foundation stone is to be laid” and that “God would strengthen the stone” itself. They did not believe that any evil exists in the venue and nor that God would grant the request to strengthen the stone.
Chapman being the good Anglican he was, defended his liturgy but allowed the CMS to redo the words.
When he built St. Thomas’ for the High Church Society for the Propagation of the Gospel, he also allowed the Low Church CMS to build St. John’s in 1851. That tolerance at the heart of Anglicanism was to be seen.
It was with the fourth Bishop of Colombo, Reginald Stephen Copleston (1876-1902) that trouble began to brew. He insisted that service be held only in buildings consecrated as a Church at a time many of them held services in any space open to them, especially their own schools.
St. John’s and the CMS
The nexus between the school and the CMS was always strong although many Anglicans are illiterate and do not know what the CMS is or the SPG for that matter.
When the CMS defied Copplestone, he withdrew the clerical licences of many priests. One of them was Rev. D. Wood, Principal of St. John’s 1974-78. Wood was caught unfortunately during Copplestone’s tenure as Bishop. St. John’s is silent on Wood’s defrocking.
The Church Today
Bishop Dhilo Canagasbey contested for the post of Bishop as an evangelical low churchman. I worked for his election although by persuasion I consider myself a high churchman. I rooted for him because his faith I considered far more important than the liberal theology of the opposition then, congratulating during the nuptial homily a Christian- Buddhist couple for their bravery and telling them not to convert.
St. John’s Today
How far the school has strayed from the Christian message about the love and free forgiveness of God is now turned into saying that message is one more valid message among many and this religion is as good as any other.
The CMS heritage and the Anglican ethos were both betrayed when incense was used. Typically, based on Exodus 40:9 incense was burned daily on this altar at the time of the morning and the evening sacrifices. Implicitly incense is offered at the Eucharist where Christ is in catholic theology offered as a sacrifice by the priest. It is by loose interpretation that incense is used everywhere as a matter of show. Rev. Good probably has turned in his grave.
There were far more serious violations of theology, in particular the Decalog, where the Tamil Liturgy has left out one of the commandments and in indolence, despite a resolution of the diocese to rectify the mistake, the Bishop has effectively said it does not matter. In this particular instance, I refer to the commandment of truthfulness. The Rev. Shadrach had a poetic prayer weaving in beautiful elements of the college crest, hymn, etc. Very new as chaplain he cannot be blamed fot not knowing the historical antecedents of the college in praying for the way the truth and life in the Lord Jesus, even as he proclaimed that the school was founded by The Rev. Joseph Knight.
What is the truth on who founded the school?
As recorded in the official CMS history by Rev. Balding (One hundred years in Ceylon; or, The centenary volume of the Church Missionary Society in Ceylon, 1818-1918, London: CMS, 1922),
An important high class boys’ school was begun at Chundicully in 1851, which is now known as St. John’s College.[my emphases]
Note the word begun, despite the current claims (by the Standing Committee of the Colombo Diocese in its report for 2018) that SJC began in 1823. Despite the corrections, plans are still afoot for the two-hundredth anniversary celebration in 2023, and the last principal asked for an extension to be in charge of the fictitious celebrations
The false claim for age was begun by SJC tracing itself back to the CMS’ Rev. Joseph Knight founding a boarding seminary in Nallur (or Nellore as then spelt) in 1823. But there is really no proper continuity because the Nellore school was closed as a result of a severe cholera epidemic in 1833. Both missionaries running the school, Knight and William Adley, were abroad. As noted, the CMS is clear that St. John’s did not start in 1823. Further, Father Balding writes:
In 1841 the [Nellore] seminary was removed to Chundicully and in 1851 as a boarding establishment it was abolished. From its foundation to its close upwards of two hundred lads passed through the regular course, and seventy became converts to Christianity [emphases mine].
Inescapable is the import of the word “abolished” and the phrase “to its close.”
It is a classic condition of the human mind that it believes what it wants to believe, and does not even recognize that wishful thinking. I have made the case in a recent paper, that if sufficiently numerous scholars repeat a lie, and one person writes the truth, most people like Rev. Shadrach will believe the majority and go by it. It is my fear that this will never be corrected like the Colombo Diocesan Council where the mistake was pointed out but nothing has changed.
I mean Colombo sucks inboth the urban dictionary sense as well as sucking into a vacuum. Just like Copplestone forced the CMS into his High Church ways, today Colombo is seen to be sucking everything into its Colombo ways. The Bishop of Colombo has been moulded into what he was not when he was elected. Colombo Anglican churches are increasingly High Church. Jaffna including St. John’s is seen to be moulded into a High Church form. Worse the SJC liturgy referred to God the Father as Parent God as PARENT God in capitals to ensure that we did not miss the point. The bishop prayed that the Holy Spirit woud sustain us by Her Grace. Said a Hidu teacher at St. John’s – “Good. Our gods are Saraswthi, Kali, Parvathy et al. So why not the Holy Spirit as one more female God?”
A shocked old girl of Chundikuli said, “So many alien things have come in.” This parent and female Holy Spirit are from some Colombo liberal taking over our ways thinking he or she is enlightened.
Syncretism usually leads to majoritarianism, the new entity taking the form of the larger group that went into a syncretic union. Thus when the Church of South India was formed with the Anglicans as the larger part of the union, the Congregationalists, Methodists, and so on became Anglicans. He is Jaffna we see what Rev. Wood fought for at the expense of his ministry losing to High Church form.
On 1 January all government servants had to take an oath. The people of Jaffna were given a special oath promsing to be one race. It is again a case of Colombo wringing our necks with its tentacles. If we become one race, it will be the majority race.
A microcosm is the SJC ceremony where we see the Sri Lanka flag being raised, something I never saw there before. Standing in the photograph from left to right is the Archdeacon of Jaffna whose sinhalee wife an chid leave in Jaffna while saying we Jaffna people know only to shoot, the Bishop of Kurunagala a Sinhalese, said at the prize giving address at SJC, “Unity is true of religions, nationalities, cultures and so on. Often, conflicts erupt when one group begins to believe that they have domination or dominion over certain matters. In this process, they inevitably alienate the others as their enemies. In the context of religion, people of one religion often try to claim that they alone worship the “Ultimate” or God. The next is Vethanayakam Silva Benniya Thuseetharan. He is the only Tamil. His father was Silva, a Tamil who grew up in Urumpirair, but many mistakenly think his father was Sinhalese. Then comes Bishop dhilo canagasabey who is married to a Sinhalese and his home language is Sinhalese. The next is CMS (SL) Chairman Thanja Peiris, and last on the right is Chaplain Jurinesz Shadrach a Burgher.
Are they implementing the government’s policy of one race? Addressing that to emphasize the beauty in being a nations of diverse peoples, is Principal Thuseetharan’s challenge.