122nd Session of the Diocesan Council, Colombo
Address by The Rt Revd Duleep de Chickera, Bishop of Colombo
My dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,
I welcome you all to yet another Annual Session of our Diocesan Council. Many have travelled from distant places undergoing a great deal of hardship and I appreciate your efforts. We have gathered as a Council under Christ to confer and decide on behalf of the Church, with the guidance of the Holy Spirit. So let us pray and work so that the time spent together in worship, study, fellowship and business may benefit God's agenda for God's Church and God's world. May all our doings be acceptable and pleasing in God's sight and may we return to our homes and congregations at the end of these three days fulfilled and renewed.
2. The Archbishop of Canterbury - Pastoral Visit
Our Diocese was privileged to welcome His Grace the Metropolitan of the Church of Ceylon and the Archbishop of Canterbury on a very brief visit in May this year. Even though our efforts to take him to a war zone were unsuccessful, we were able to give him a reasonable insight into the life and work of the Diocese and Nation. During the two and a half days he was with our Diocese he met a cross section of people and leaders, worshipped with us and gave a public talk. We shall remember his simplicity and words of wisdom for a long time. The tree he planted on the front lawn of the Cathedral and the Resource Centre he blessed and opened will mark this historic event. Praying for him now becomes more realistic for those of us who have seen him in the flesh. I commend Archbishop Rowan to the ceaseless prayers of the Diocese at this critical juncture in the life of the world communion.
3. Archdeacon of Galle - Retirement
The Ven. Lokendra Abhayaratne will be retiring at the end of this year. He was Ordained as a Non Stipendary Minister in September 1986 and became a full time stipendary Priest in June 1989. He was appointed Archdeacon of Galle in January 2003. Ven Lokendra had a passion for evangelism, the applied teaching of the Bible and developed inter-faith relations in the south. He brought a mix of humour and firmness into his work as an Archdeacon and always had time for people. He and Mohini worked tirelessly to encourage the Clergy, Lay Workers and Congregations in the South. The Diocese gave them a formal farewell last evening and I place on record our gratitude for the heavy responsibility they so readily and graciously carried.
Even though he is officially retiring, the Ven Lokendra still has much to offer. He has expressed a willingness to conduct missions and teach and preach and I commend this offer to the Diocese. I also hope that he will use his retirement to write a book, perhaps on the place of interfaith co-operation in the wider mission of the Church. Please pray that the Ven. Lokendra and Mohini will find fulfilment as they re-adjust their lives to new possibilities and continuing challenges.
4. Our Children - The Gifts of God
The care and nurture of our children specially within the Church is a responsibility we have exercised in fits and starts. We have by and large treated these valuable lives as less important in the whole life of the whole Church. Our mission by them has been restricted to the Sunday School and some token participation at Worship. In many places this too is badly planned and tends to include just a few. More seriously we have failed to take note of the harsh challenges in which our children are caught up. These challenges include the evil impact of violence, a notoriously competitive world, the enticement of advertising and the ever hovering threat of economic, physical, emotional and sexual exploitation and abuse. It is in equipping these little ones, whom Jesus taught are the most precious in God's purposes, to deal with these challenges, that we fulfil God's mission by them.
It was with this background in mind that I set up a Commission to study and report on the place of the Child in the Church. The recommendations of the Commission are found in Appendix I of this Address. I commend the report and its recommendations for study and action to all Parishes, Schools, Children's Homes and Parents. I request the Secretaries of the Board of Christian Education and The Bishop's Education Advisory Committee to place the report on their Agendas; and all School Heads and Chaplains to address these recommendations.
I thank Mrs Nirmali Wickremesinghe, Principal of Ladies' College, who chaired this Commission, and her team, for a very professional and committed effort. I also draw your attention to the resolution before us at this Council and encourage an educative discussion.
5. Mission - Structures and Obstacles
Diocesan Council is an appropriate occasion to review the mission of the Church. I shall however not undertake a direct review of our mission but have chosen instead to highlight some obstacles to mission that we encounter in our structures. These need immediate attention. I draw the attention of the Diocese to three such obstacles.
First, there is an inherent lack of co-ordination amongst the various mission Bodies and Committees of the Diocese. For example Bodies such as the Diocesan Missionary Council, Board of Social Responsibility, Youth Movement, Board of Women's Work, Board of Christian Education, Mothers' Union and so on, work independently of each other all the time and have little opportunity to interact and share resources. More importantly, these Bodies are not officially represented here at Council, which is the only occasion when the whole Church meets through representatives to evaluate and plan our mission. This is a serious omission and simply means that the Diocese is unable to take informed decisions on these various aspects of our work.
The establishment of the Board of Mission three years ago was an attempt to deal with some of these obstacles. We are so habit forming however that our co-operation has been poor. Since the Church exists for mission this attitude must change. What we seem to need is both, an annual Board of Mission Conference for representatives of the Mission Bodies as well as steps to ensure the ex-officio participation of representatives of these Bodies at Diocesan council. I request the Board of Mission to make appropriate proposals in this regard to Standing Committee.
The mandates and composition of these Boards and Committees are also areas of concern. The Standing Committee recently discovered to our surprise that some Boards are not aware of their mandate and simply accept the previous years agenda as their mandate. Also, while tribute must be paid to those who carry forward the work of most of these Bodies, ways and means must be found to provide opportunities for other competent and committed persons to be included through a process of continuity and change. I am thankful that these concerns are being addressed by the Standing Committee.
A second obstacle to mission is seen in our Parish structures. The Board of Wardens is the most influential Body in the Parish. Wardens are appointed to assist the Vicar in matters of finance and administration and to generally manage the affairs of the Parish. Most Wardens would see this as their primary role. Where Wardens happen to be also interested in the mission of the Church, initiatives are taken and sustained. On the other hand, where Wardens do not have an interest in mission, the mission of the parish is reduced to the work of maintenance and the continuity of traditions. Mission then devolves all too heavily on the Clergy and could lead to a conflict in stewardship.
This problem has been resolved in some parishes through a creative functioning of the Parochial Church Council. Where Parochial Church Councils bring together all Parish Organisations through Office Bearers and any others interested in mission, the work of God is enhanced. Consequently it is imperative that Vicars and Priests-in-charge provide the leadership in guiding our Parishes in this direction. Theological, Biblical, spiritual and missiological guidance will be necessary and the Clergy and other committed Laypersons must respond.
A third obstacle is that even where structures for mission exist, we falter due to the lack of planning. Much of our mission amounts to sincere but sporadic initiatives. What is required is clear goals however modest, monitoring, evaluation and reporting. It is better to attempt little and to do it well.
We must begin from where we are and set a direction for the next few years. What do we think God wants of our community? Where do we want to be in the next few years? We should discern in Christ, consult and build on the good work inherited. Size and numbers and wealth do not matter, though the consideration of resources both human and financial is necessary. What matters most is that our work should be modelled on the metaphors of salt and leaven and light that Jesus spoke about. Faithfulness, and the inner transformation and spirituality of the persons involved and the community at large should characterise our work. All this needs to be supported by prayer and days of retreat and reflection.
I request the Diocesan Research and Planning Committee to set up workshops on planning for the benefit of the Diocese and the parishes, as a contribution towards this effort.
In the meantime I request all Parishes and Institutions to address the following ten mission responsibilities. Our parishes and institutions are well endowed and placed reasonably strategically to serve all and serve well. If we respond in obedience we can make a difference. Some of this can be done in clusters or at Deanery level.
1. Take options for the poor and the harassed and stand with the afflicted.
2. Engage in participatory and creative liturgical reform
3. Exercise relevant pastoral care
4. Provide contextual and sound lay education and training
5. Engage in incarnational evangelism
6. Engage in Community service
7. Work for peace, justice and reconciliation
8. Empower women, youth and children
9. Strengthen ecumenical and inter-faith dialogue and co-operation
10. Conduct periodical Parish retreats and missions
6. The Cry of the Nation
6.1. The National Crisis
Several connected trends have heightened our National Crisis. At least eight of these need immediate arrest and transformation if we are to raise our heads as a democratic and just people. These are:
6.1.1. The sustained alienation and humiliation especially of the Tamils, the largest minority Sri Lankan community.
Several converging actions against the Tamils convey that Tamils are less important and are even dispensable. Relentless strategies that geographically and ideologically segregate the Tamils could well be part of a wave of majoritarianism. All this happens without a word of explanation, regret or apology and further compounds the Tamil
grievance and crisis. Consequently many, perhaps most, within the Tamil Community have lost faith in the State. The conflicts and power struggles among politico-militant Tamil groups has further aggravated this situation. To our utter shame and despite the rhetoric to the contrary, the Sri Lankan Nation has collectively signalled that the well being of the majority towers above the rights, dignity and safety of the Tamils
6.1.2. The failure to investigate human rights violations.
No one so far has been brought to book for hundreds of continuing assassinations and abductions of civilians, relief workers and even Clergy. The silence that follows promises of investigations is incompatible with the somewhat proven State prowess in intelligence and security. One way or the other the State is responsible for these happenings. The judicial system, adequately equipped with competent persons, is unable to deliver justice to the afflicted. There is a clear line of investigation and prosecution that few are ready to cross. This has led to a state of unprecedented impunity and breakdown in law and order and crime; and the people are crushed by the vindictiveness and greed of the violent. The brazen violation of the 17th Amendment to the Constitution has re-politicised the organs of democratic governance. Nothing else seems to work, other than the moral integrity of the people and what is left of the conscience of the country?s political leadership.
6.1.3. The stifling of dissent and opinions that could make a difference.
This includes the intimidation of voices of dissent and the media, the refusal to hear independent views, the arbitrary dismissal of student and worker concerns and a disregard for world opinion. Successive Sri Lankan Governments and the LTTE are guilty of this trend. Much more seriously, the dismissal of these views as unpatriotic, simply because they are different or dissenting, is unacceptable and even inflammatory when voiced by persons holding responsibility. On the other hand the ability to listen to these voices is the real test of the spirit of democracy and inevitably paves the way to dialogue and a negotiated settlement.
6.1.4. The failure to probe allegations of corruption and the unauthorised use of large sums of public funds.
As some are caught up in the euphoria of beating the enemy, and others driven to silence in a culture of rewards and punishments and intimidation and impunity, persons in authority have seemingly robbed our poor Nation through the abuse of officially entrenched power. Even responsible reports from Parliamentary Committees like the COPE are now being sidelined.
6.1.5. The deliberate procrastination and the ridiculing of political consensus and a negotiated settlement.
Most Sri Lankan Governments and the LTTE are guilty of this breach. This includes frustrating double standards of flaunting power sharing as the democratic face to good governance and then shooting down any and all constructive proposals by imposing impossible pre-conditions. It is now obvious that this is a feet dragging exercise so that more extreme agendas could fall into place
6.1.6. LTTE intransigence and disregard for the sufferings of the Tamils.
It is now clear that the priority on the LTTE agenda is the uncompromising retention of its own power base. Whether its intransigent stance and strategies directly or indirectly add to the endless suffering and sorrow of the Tamils do not seem to matter. Consequently its concern for the rights, freedom, dignity and safety of the Tamil people is questionable. Its harsh policy of child and compulsory conscription of one cadre per family specially in the area under its control has added to the misery of a people already under the oppression of war. Several live in fear, are in hiding to avoid conscription and want to get out. Some justify the conscription policy, often from safe
and far off places; others raise questions about the rights of the Tamils to dissent and whether this is a foretaste of the promised liberation.
This power agenda explains the reluctance and even inability of the LTTE to negotiate with purpose for constitutionally entrenched devolution within a united Sri Lanka; perhaps the most prudent political settlement for us all.
6.1.7. A system of rewards and punishments and the ensuing politics of confrontation.
A worrying system of rewards and punishments dominates and determines our political culture. Few stand up to this culture and some exploit it for gain. Those who enter the system lose their right to disagree and those who withstand it become the enemy.
This system also has the capacity to convert previous opponents into friends and previous friends into opponents. When this happens confidentialities are leaked and political encounter shifts from the goal of good governance to endless confrontation and mud slinging. Consequently the democratic right of the people to good governance is usurped. The people's right to participate in the political destiny of the country through the declared manifestos of their elected representatives also becomes meaningless.
6.1.8 The spiralling cost of living that impacts on the quality of life of the poor.
Further complicating this oppressive climate is the unprecedented and uncontrollable rise in the island-wide cost of living. The war budget, corruption, waste and mismanagement of public funds, and the absence of visible economic policies to improve the quality of life, especially of the poor, collectively contribute to this trend. War policies that restrict the supply of essentials to certain Northern parts of the country add to the hardship of those in these areas. The poor continue to be arbitrarily exploited and abandoned.
6.2. Gospel and Church
Change comes in such situations of political crises in three ways. It occurs when political leaders come to their senses and change direction, or through the democratic process of fresh elections or through pressure exerted by the people. While it is desirable that all Sri Lankans should work for the transformation of our political culture, it is imperative that communities of faith do so. The values of our great religions adequately enrich and equip us in this task.
The Gospel calls us as disciples of Christ to work for justice, reconciliation and peace. Repentance and forgiveness are a central part in this process. To be faithful to this call is to sustain hope. It is expected that our Bible studies tomorrow and the day after, will challenge us to be even more faithful to this our calling. I also commend the resolution on the agenda to set up Peace and Justice Committees in all our Congregations and hope it will receive our unstinted support. If we organise and commit ourselves with faith and passion in our work with Christ we will make a difference for peace and justice in Sri Lanka.
The inter-ethnic identity of our Church needs affirmation with thanksgiving in this task. We are by God's grace a visible symbol of hope in today's polarised society. Also by God's grace only, have we stayed together over these turbulent years, sharing life and recognising each others value and dignity as a community of equals in Christ. Our common worship, witness and decision making, have enriched us. Without the other we are the poorer. Consequently we are called to share this priceless gift with others; but we must never take this privilege or the other for granted. To watch and pray and address moments of hurt and frustration with mutual trust will enable us to move forward with integrity.
7. New Partnerships
I draw your attention to two important Diocesan partnerships.
7.1. Church of Ceylon - New Constitution
This will enable our two Anglican Dioceses of Kurunagala and Colombo to work in a more collaborative and integrated way while retaining the autonomy of the respective Dioceses. We will also continue to retain constitutional links with our Metropolitan the Archbishop of Canterbury.
I have requested the Secretary of the Diocese to convene an appropriate meeting to plan a programme to create wider awareness on this partnership for the Diocese. We must move forward with trust and discernment.
7.2. The Confederation of Churches
The Confederation of Churches is a proposal to bring the uniting Churches within the National Christian Council into a more formal alliance. This will take us beyond the present ties of ecumenical collaboration within the National Christian Council but fall short of a United Church. If our experience in confederation proves fulfilling then the chances of a united church emerging out of this will be much greater. I commend the resolution before this Council and hope it will receive our unanimous support.
A particular Anglican responsibility in our journey through Confederation will be the concept of ecumenical episcopacy compatible with both the Historic Episcopate as well as the final goal of a United Church. This is a concern of our sister churches and we must be prepared to offer both clarification and compromise with integrity.
I like to think that both these partnerships offer us fresh opportunities for faithfulness in Christ. This is good enough a reason to justify these decisions. But for this to happen we will need to address a host of inner feelings such as the clash of loyalties, prejudices, power and resource sharing, personal agendas, internal dynamics and so on. To recognise that we are individuals and churches with a mix of hopes and fears is a realistic starting point. From here on trust and openness through association, dialogue and a sharing of experiences and practices will be required by all.
A crucial question we are called upon to address in the coming months is whether there is a connection and continuity between these partnerships and if so what this is. While the answer to this rests with us all we must take note of the signals we send our sister Churches and respond with integrity. Pre-occupation with strengthening our Anglican base, even if we stay committed to Union could confuse the other churches. It could also confuse our response to the commandment of Christ that we should become one so that the world may believe. A united body of Christ is more right and makes more sense in today's world than the continuation of our divisions.
Consequently I urge that our Anglican collaboration be seen as a strong and purposeful preparation for Confederation and not as an option to it. The commitment to Church Union is a central tenet of Anglicanism and was further strengthened when our Province was dissolved and this must take precedence over all other partnerships. All this requires a continuing clarification of our vision; and proper checks and balances to ensure we journey with purpose.
Both these partnerships should be viewed as gifts of grace and need to be unwrapped with respect, and hope and trust in God, so that our beloved Sri Lanka may believe and be blessed. They are certainly not partnerships with strangers but a renewal of old and valued friendships. Inspite of this I assure you that their impact will not be rushed or forced on the Diocese hastily.
7.3. Our Anglican Identity
A review of Anglicanism is timely for three good reasons. First, the world communion experiences continuing conflicts. These conflicts include differences regarding human sexuality, mission within prescribed jurisdictions and tensions
between Scripture, authority, culture and conscience. To know who we are helps in addressing these conflicts.
Next, as mentioned, the Diocese is journeying towards a confederation of churches and we need to know who we are so that we know what we offer this important collaboration Finally, periodical review of our identity in any case is helpful for our journey as disciples in Christ.
Without question any review must assert that being Christian is more important than being Anglican. The real quest therefore centres on whether Anglicanism is an appropriate vehicle for being Christian today. In this task we must be open to the God of history and change. This change could come either through a radical reshaping of, or a complete shift away from Anglicanism. That Anglican wine is today bursting out of its bottles is more than clear.
The call of Anglicanism is to be both locally rooted and universally cohesive. This means that our Sri Lankan context is meant to shape us into a Sri Lankan Anglican Church. On the other hand it also means that we retain a global character recognisable from the outside owing to our shared vision, heritage, spirituality, values, and practices.
7.4. Locally Rooted
Anglicans in Sri Lanka are inheritors of a denominational tradition born and substantially formed in England. But we are also as Sri Lankan Anglicans an intrinsic part of the cultures of our land. We speak the languages of the people, practice common customs and appreciate our histories, civilisation and traditions. National realities like pluralism, poverty and political struggle and change, influence us just as they do all Sri Lankans. So, as these realities impact on our legacy of inherited Anglicanism, the way we worship, engage in mission, respond to political issues, relate with our neighbour, learn and teach theology, generate spiritualities and pursue our aspirations and hopes; transforms us hopefully, into a distinct Sri Lankan Anglican Church.
However, Sri Lankan Anglicans have been and continue to be committed to the ecumenical movement. This consequently brings an ecumenical dimension into our identity as well. For instance most of our Clergy today have been trained at an Ecumenical College. Here the ecumenical input and formation modifies the Anglican input and formation and leads to a redefinition of Anglicanism. Our long association with the other Churches and Christians have also compelled us to rethink and redefine Sri Lankan Anglicanism.
Consequently the ethos of our congregations has changed and successive generations of Anglicans continue to receive an ecumenically modified formation in Anglicanism. How this impacts on Anglicanism locally rooted is a task for our theologians. But that Anglicanism is also being transformed locally by our ecumenical encounters and associations is a reality we need to bear in mind.
7.5. Universally Cohesive
The bonds of affection that bind us universally are nourished by two strong traditions. These are the Lambeth Quadrilateral and the Instruments of Unity. I like to think that in addition a cluster of shared practices also contributes to our universal ethos.
The Lambeth Quadrilateral is the minimum Anglican requirement for negotiations on Church Union and has since been regarded as the core foundation of belief for Anglicans. It comprises the Scriptures, the three-fold ministry of Deacons, Priests and Bishops, the historic creeds and the sacraments.
The Instruments of Unity comprise the Archbishop of Canterbury, the Lambeth Conference, the Anglican Consultative Council and the voice of the Primates when they confer together from time to time. They have emerged at different times in history and comprise Offices and gatherings that link the world communion and facilitate our shared journey.
The cluster of shared practices include the centrality of the Eucharist in our worship and in the definition of our theology, the interdependence of scholarship and devotion, space for diverse theological and missiological positions, the imperative of incarnational holistic Mission, the priesthood of all believers and the participation of the laity in the whole life and mission of the church, Synodical Church governance and dialogue as a discourse whether internal, ecumenical or interfaith. These are all held together by our finality of faithfulness in Christ.
Any review of Anglicanism today calls for a more profound critique of these very thrusts and practices which generations have accepted without question. For instance the mere acceptance of the authority of scripture is not enough. We need to probe whether there can be different but equally faithful and scholarly ways of Biblical interpretation and implementation and whether there is a way of testing the faithfulness of such positions. While history teaches that agreement on a uniform method of interpretation is remote, the wisdom of spirituality teaches that the fruit of faithful Biblical interpretation can never be hostility and exclusion.
Another area of concern is the struggle to reconstruct the balance of power within and amongst the Instruments of Unity. The increasingly politicised stance of the Primates as it tests the more traditional role of the Archbishop of Canterbury as Spiritual Head of the Communion suggests that the Instruments of Unity are now being ironically translated into instruments of power. This raises questions as to whether the four Instruments share equal authority and if so whether they can function in an integrated way to influence the course of Anglicanism? Or, should one gain supremacy over the others, and if so which one should this be?
These tensions are likely to determine participation at, and the happenings and outcome of the Lambeth 2008 Conference and I call for appropriate prayers of the Diocese for Archbishop Rowan and the Lambeth Conference.
7.6. The Anglican Way
Appendix II to this address, entitled 'The Anglican Way' is the work of a group that was commissioned to articulate the tenets of Anglicanism today. It is a contribution to our common quest on Anglicanism. I was privileged to be part of this process in its latter stages. This is a very precise and timely document and I request all Clergy and congregations to study it. Please include youth and children in particular and pray, discuss, absorb and strive to live by these tenets. Responses that emerge out of this process will prove invaluable to the world Church.
You will notice a welcome shift in terminology in this document from Anglicanism to the 'Anglican Way'. Anglicanism is not meant to be a rigid and static theory. It is rather a movement whose identity is redefined through faithfulness in the midst of challenge, crisis and change. This shift also recognises other ways of being Christian today. If it is to be credible, the 'Anglican Way' must take its place amongst and remain in dialogue with the several other authentic ways of being Christian in today's world.
At the end of the day we are still left with three pertinent questions;
1. Is an Anglican simply a Christian who finds herself in the Anglican Church, or a Christian in the Anglican Church who knows something about the Anglican way? Or is there more to being part of the Anglican Way?
2. Since Anglicans share common roots that have shaped a common spirituality and identity cannot our Christian behaviour be reasonably predicted when faced with conflict?
3. Can these roots, spirituality and identity help us to be different and yet stay in communion with a sense of integrity?
Most of our work in relief and rehabilitation has been completed. Some pending projects have been passed on for follow up to the Board of Social Responsibility which has become the project successor to the Relief and Rehabilitation Desk. All finances are now held by the Diocese and funds will be released as and when requested by the Board of Social Responsibility in keeping with approved budgets. An interim audit is being completed and these details along with an interim report will be tabled at Standing Committee.
I place on record the sincere gratitude of the Diocese to Ms Chrisanthi Abeynaike who gave of her valuable expertise in an honorary capacity as Co-ordinator of the Relief and Rehabilitation Desk. I also thank the other members of staff at the Desk and those who served on the Relief and Rehabilitation Task Force.
9. My Gratitude
Our work as a Diocese over the past year has only been possible through the grace of God and the offering of the gifts of the people. I place on record my gratitude to all four Archdeacons and the Secretary, Treasurer and Honorary Registrar for the heavy responsibility they carry in the life of the Diocese. The Area Deans and all my sister and brother Clergy and Lay Workers have worked tirelessly through the year, asking for little in return. I thank them and their families for their partnership in the Gospel. The Staff at the Diocesan and Bishops Offices, with whom I work closely provide daily and unstinted support, and I thank them most sincerely. To the numerous other laypersons who serve in several other ways on the Standing Committee, Incorporated Trustees, Diocesan Boards and Committees and at Parochial level, including our faithful and hard working sextons, I say thank you and well done. The Principals, Boards of Governors and all categories of staff of our Schools provide a most invaluable service and I express my sincere gratitude to them all.
In May this year I began my seventh year in the Episcopate. Throughout this period I have been increasingly aware of God's patience and grace and my limitations and lapses. I have also been immensely helped by the critical solidarity that several of you have offered me in this challenging journey. I thank you.
During this period the care, formation, and encouragement of the Clergy, Lay Workers and Congregations have been of highest priority in my ministry. I have also felt the re-endorsement of God's particular call towards a ministry in peace. Consequently more of my energy and time has been directed towards dialogue with a cross-section of people and groups, and religious, political, military and civil society leaders. This work can be both fulfilling and frustrating. It brings some healing, some misunderstanding and some risk; but 'God is the restlessness in us that calls us to transform the world' and I must walk this path with Christ. I ask for your prayers.
With Peace and Blessings to you all