By S. Ratnajeevan Hoole –
In the wider Sri Lankan Church where in general I have found clerical ambition for position, resources and territory trumping faith, it was a fulfilling experience to have attended today the Institution and Installation of the new Principal of Jaffna College, Ms. Rushira Kulasingham. She is from Tellippalai, the grand-daughter of I.P. Thurairatnam, once the Principal of Union College. I had known her as a young woman at University of Colombo’s English language Teaching Unit when I chaired the UGC’s Standing Committee on English Teaching. She showed then the promise that I saw fulfilled today.
These are times when people with talent have fled Sri Lanka and, in that scarcity, Rushira is a gem discovered, as I told The Rt. Rev. Daniel Thiagarajah who presided over the ceremony.
As announced by the college’s alumni association, Ms. Rushira Kulasingham received her early education at Methodist College, Colombo and Chundikuli Girls’ College, Jaffna. She later obtained a BA degree with English as a subject from the University of Jaffna and an MA degree in Linguistics from the University of Kelaniya. Her professional qualifications include Staff and Educational Development Association (SEDA) Teacher Accreditation (UK), Certificate in Teaching in Higher Education (CTHE) from the University of Colombo and a Certificate in Teaching English for Business Purposes from the University of Edinburgh (UK). She is widely credited for her leading role in upgrading the English Language Teaching Unit of the University of Colombo into a full-fledged academic department. She served on the Presidential Task Force on IT and English in 2011, and on the Board of the CMS schools in her capacity as Manager of Chundikuli Girls’ College, Jaffna.
At present Rushira is a Consultant and Freelance Trainer especially focusing on Business English as a Trainer of Trainees. Her husband G.S.S. Kulasingham is Operations Director at YGROW Pvt. Ltd., a Sri Lankan Christian NGO. Her eldest is Dr. Joshua Pranjeevan Kulasingham, a Post-doctoral Researcher in Electrical Engineering at University of Linchoping in Sweden. He is married to Evanjalin, a doctor. Her youngest who was present today with her father, is Shamika Kulasingham who after graduating recently in English Honours from Colombo is a content writer.
A service-oriented family, they have been, among other things, distributing bicycles for the needy in Kayts.
A Little Untidiness
An event like this, is usually of great moment to the Christian Community. Everyone celebrates. Even the Hindu Principal of Victoria College, Sathiyakumary Sivagumar, came and sat reverentially in church and introduced herself to Rushira after the service.
Unfortunately, however, the Church and the school have been riven by politics. The Alumni, recognizing the importance of Rushira, came to the service and participated, whether Hindu or Christian.
A half of the Church of South India, breaking off and calling themselves the America Ceylon Mission (ACM), did not come. Where they will send their children for school for a Christian education is unknown.
Of the Anglicans from the Church of Ceylon, thankfully, the Principals of Chundikuli and St. John’s came, as did Ms. Patricia Jebaratnam, Principal of Uduvil. But most poignantly, the Archdeacon of Jaffna, the Ven. Fr. S.D.P. Selvan (the Bishop of Colombo’s representative) and none of the other Church of Ceylon (CoC) Anglican priests (except one in retirement) came to celebrate such an important event in a sister church and the Christian community.
A lot of the untidiness comes from the absence of the law in the church despite Jesus’ statement “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfil them” (Matthew 5:17).
“The Constitution, Canons and Rules” of the Church of Ceylon (CCR) was drafted in English. There is a partial, unofficial and unauthorized translation into Sinhalese but nothing into Tamil. Yet, the Act of Parliament incorporating the Church says where there is an inconsistency between the English and Sinhalese versions, the Sinhalese shall prevail. But then there is no authorized Sinhalese version. So, if the English original says something, there is nothing said by the Sinhalese. As such, there is really no law! For it is something in English against nothing in Sinhalese. It is nothing that prevails.
That is how Rs. 10 million was spent on the 4 archdeacons each to buy them luxury cars and Rs. 5 million each for retired Bishops Kenneth Fernando and Duleep de Chickera without meeting the requirement in the English language Constitution of the Diocese of Colombo demanding that such capital expenditures be confirmed by the Diocesan Council. Some argue that after the service they rendered the Church, surely, they deserve the cars. Perhaps so. But if the administrators really believed that they deserved the cars, why did they not trust the Diocesan Council to put the purchases for the Council’s confirmation? How did these colossal capital expenditures pass the Treasurer and Auditor? All this happened because there is no law, and faith like the Rajapakses in the archaic legal maxim that “The King can do no Wrong” – Rex non potest peccare.
It is not readily recognized that Anglicans, although not Roman Catholics, verily are Catholics. They function under a Bishop who claims unbroken continuity from St. Peter by laying on of hands on priests by bishops. They believe in the Real Presence of Christ in the Bread and Wine of the Eucharist.
Originally there were Congregationalists in India who had no strict and uniform rules on who can be priests, and did not possess this continuity from St. Peter. They saw the Eucharist as only a memorial whereas for Catholics it is that and the Real Presence in the Bread and Wine. For Anglicans such priests’ ordination is invalid. Their consecration of the Eucharist does not invoke Real Presence and therefore invalid (Cynics might snigger but they should read the CCR of the Church. The reality is that in the Church the CCR is for show and does no define faith. Bishops can do anything they want as they often do).
Then many of these Congregationalist congregations joined and formed the South Indian United Church. Joining South Indian Anglicans who were by far more numerous, they accepted continuity of ordination from St. Peter and the doctrine of the Real Presence. That union, accepting articles of religion they did not believe in for the sake of showing a united face to the world, led to the law being devalued into something we need not follow.
So, in Jaffna we have two Anglican Churches. The CSI and the CoC which always saw the CSI as not really Anglican. However, the CSI (Jaffna Diocese) being part of the larger CSI, is invited to the Lambeth Conference where all Bishops get together. An invitation to Lambeth is Anglican authenticity. On the other hand, the CoC being small with only two dioceses is not a full member of Lambeth. As such CoC Anglicans have a lower status than CSI Anglicans because CoC Anglicans cannot speak or vote at Lambeth to which they do not have a full invitation. That surely must hurt because the Sinhalese generally do not like Indians and feel superior to them. As the Bible says, Luke 1:52: He has brought down rulers from their thrones, And has exalted those who were humble.
This is why the CoC last week desperately approved 2 new dioceses, one for Nuwara Eliya and the other for Galle, in addition to Colombo and Kurunegala which are already there. As Bishop Kenneth Fernando is recorded in the annual 2018 Diocesan Council Minutes, Jaffna can join the CSI. In the scheme nearing finality, the Tamils of Dehiwela and Mount Lavinia who are a powerful force in the Diocese of Colombo, will become insignificant when shifted to the Diocese of Galle.
Already CoC Tamil Anglicans are burdened with a Book of Common Prayer that calls God “Him without Holiness” and has only nine “Ten Commandments.” Despite a Diocesan Council resolution in 2018 to correct the Prayer Book immediately, it has remained uncorrected for 4 years since then. The Church does not seem to care for its Tamils who are forced to pray to an unholy God. There is no Tamil CCR that Tamils can consult to see what the rules and faith of the Church are and ask for their rights based on that reading.
It is Sir Pon Ramanathan all over again. As a gentleman he felt forbidden to talk about the Tamil Sinhalese cleavage. Again, in the Church, we are to look the other way because it is un-Christian to speak of these goings on in the Church that diminish Tamils.
This tight control of the Church and its funds by the hierarchy ensures that no one questions it over its unlawful administration and awful misuse of funds. Especially priests who should lead are silent because they want postings in Colombo where their children can go free to St. Thomas’ or Ladies’ or Bishop’s, and where parishes are relatively rich and provide cars and an envelope of cash after officiating at a child’s birthday party.
A few months ago, I went to a service of dedication where the renovated CSI Cathedral was blessed. I was the only CoC Anglican there. Subsequently some Anglicans angrily asked me why I went there. The answer is simple. The first Christian in my family (not considering people like Dona Maria who were there but I do not know much of) was the Rev. Cyrus Kingsbury who was then a Congregationalist. He was baptized around 1820 and was Assistant Priest at the Tellippalai Mission. His son, Edward Appukutti Kingsbury, was native Professor of Mathematics at Batticotta Seminary. Their church has returned to the Catholic fold and there are no theological objections to my attending service there. My attending CSI is for institutional reasons and for the fact that the difference between CoC and CSI is now seamless except that CoC Bishops might feel the need to retain power by not having cross-overs. Indeed, the CoC is on record as wanting us Jaffna Tamils to join the CSI. Whatever the problems in crossing over to the CSI, they will not be because of my ethnicity.
Rushira takes over Jaffna College at a momentous time of challenges. The break-away America Ceylon Mission needs to be brought back to the mother church, especially if they aspire to be Bishop of the CSI because a Bishop makes sense only in a Catholic milieu. Their children need a Christian environment in school. The seminary which is controlled by the ACM needs to come back for use by both factions for the proper training of clergy at a time when sending CSI ordinands to Pilimatalawa does not afford a full Catholic education. Somehow working with the Board to revive Jaffna College’s undergraduate section can help broaden the theological base of the training that priests are given. At a time when both factions of alumni have come together to back Rushira, that welcome change gives her momentum to any efforts she may make to build bridges.
Your experience in English language teaching must also be shared with the seminary because priests must be able to read, most useful reading being in English.
Another challenge is being a woman. Jaffna College is coeducational and has had two women Vice Principals. According to Bishop Thiagarajah at the service today, they were unable to make them Principals. I can assert that in our community, women are not accepted, however qualified they might be. They will use objections to women priests and mis-apply those objections to women Principals. Men look away when women speak and even interrupt. The women might be professors with a doctorate, but are referred to as Mrs. So-and-so; for that is their only status, being Wife of So-and-so. You, Rushira, are more qualified that most past principals of Jaffna College. Gently assert your ideas. God will be behind you.