|Bishop Speaks On Issues of Church, Nation and Communion
by the Right Rev. Duleep de Chickera
June 7, 2005
[The Church of Ceylon (E-P) - Ceylon]
My dear Sisters and Brothers,
I send you greetings from Sri Lanka as you gather for the 2005 Annual Meeting of the Church of Ceylon Association. Last year, while giving thanks for the continuing links we have had with you over the years, I suggested that it may be good to strengthen the links in some way. During the past year or two, we have had visits both from your Chairman Canon Bob Campbell Smith and from your Secretary Ann Mutukisna. Canon Bob, who was here very recently, was able to travel extensively and visit all regions of Sri Lanka. We are happy to receive these visits for they indeed strengthen our links. I also hope that many of you are now subscribing to the Ceylon Churchman. That will enable you to keep in touch with the life, work and mission of our Church here on an ongoing basis.
The Tsunami: The biggest and the most tragic event in Sri Lanka in living memory was the tsunami. It hit us unexpectedly frpm the North through the East to the South West destroying everything in its path. Statistics will reveal only the physical loss of life and property enormous though it is. The trauma, grief and shock of the tragedy has affected hundreds of thousands of our people. Together with our partner churches in the National Christian Council of Sri Lanka, we provided immediate relief to many thousands within days of the disaster. We have also set up a Relief and Rehabilitation Desk in the Diocesan Office to direct our relief and rehabilitation work. Coordinators have been appointed at regional level and at the centre. A Task Force of experts review our policy. The spontaneous assistance we have received from across the world has overwhelmed us. We are deeply grateful. Apart from the distribution of relief and rations, our R&R desk coordinates trauma counselling and the training of counselors, repairs to damaged homes, assistance with transitional shelters, providing material assistance for affected people to resume their livelihood, setting up of boatyards for boat building and providing alternate accommodation and schooling for affected children doing their public examinations shortly. Government agencies have plans to rebuild houses for those who have had their houses completely destroyed. This work of building permanent homes naturally will take time. If there is a need at some stage for us to step in and assist in this, we shall do so. We have also decided that the funding we have received will as far as possible be shared equally between the three affected regions North, East and South.
School and Parish Links: We have encouraged each of our Schools in the Diocese to link with a state school affected by the tsunami. Some of our schools have linked up with two schools. Each of these linked schools are predominantly of another faith Buddhist, Hindu and Islam. For instance, Ladies’ College has links with a predominantly Buddhist school in Ambalangoda in the South and a predominantly Hindu school in Kalmunai in the East. S Thomas’ College Gurutalawa has linked up with a Muslim School in Nintavur also in the East. Chundikuli Girls’ College has links with a predominantly Hindu School in Valvettithurai in the North. These links seem to be working very well and there has been very meaningful exchange of visits between staff and students and our schools have been able to assist with providing the link school with educational and co-curricular material support in various areas. I am grateful to our Principals for the commitment with which they have gone about setting up the links and making them work for the mutual benefit of the staff and students of both schools.
We had many inquiries from churches in the Anglican Communion for links with an Anglican church in the affected areas. We have tried to arrange a suitable match and all our churches have links with churches overseas and some additionally with a ‘bigger’ church in Colombo. As I write this, the links have varying degrees of intensity but I hope that in the longer run, these links will grow and the link will be a source of mutual strength and support to each other.
The Nation: Apart from the adverse effects of the tsunami, the peace process in Sri Lanka has not made much headway. The talks between the Government and the LTTE whch were suspended about an year before the present Government came into power, remain suspended one year after. But the situation is not quite hopeless. The ceasefire continues to hold but the political violence and killings, particularly in the East, is worrying. A mechanism to involve the LTTE in post-tsunami rehabilitation work of the Government in the North and East is nearing finalisation and will hopefully be adopted soon, despite opposition from some extreme elements. This can and should lead to cooperation between the Government and the LTTE in other areas as well. I also believe that, as opinion surveys (limited though they may be) tend to indicate, there is a groundswell of public opinion throughout the country in favour of a negotiated permanent political solution to the longstanding ethnic issue in our country.
There has unfortunately been an upsurge in political violence and political killings during the past couple of years, particularly in the East. Included among those killed have been several journalists and civil society/ political leaders. We have repeatedly urged that this culture of violence must end and all of us religious leaders, civil society leaders and political leaders must take responsibility for not doing enough.
There has also been a re-surfacing of inter-religious tensions in some areas of the country. As I write this, there is a build up of ethno-religious tensions in Trincomalee which fortunately the government and civil society leaders seem to be keeping under control at least for the moment. The anti-conversion bill, some clauses of which were struck down by the Supreme Court, has now been presented in Parliament by the monk MPs of the Jathika Hela Urumaya. Irrespective of whether the bill is approved by Parliament, the bill has generated unease among the Christians. Our view, shared by many leaders of all faiths, is that legislation is not the answer to the perceived “unethical” activities of some Christian evangelists. We have proposed an Inter-Religious Advisory Council that will be a statutory body monitoring activities that affect religious harmony. I must also state that we have had reports that some foreign Christian groups that came here ostensibly for post-tsunami relief work had, in violation of international norms in respect of relief work, been engaging in evangelism. The National Christian Council felt compelled to publicly disassociate from the activities of these groups and ask these groups to act sensibly and sensitively by providing relief where needed without violating personal dignity and freedom of choice. I am attaching copies of the statements issued in this regard.
Our Diocese has been making every effort towards creating a new political culture and promoting an inclusiveness that will help in nation building. It is not an easy task but we cannot ever give up in despair. I hope all of you, Sri Lankan expatriates and friends of Sri Lanka, will likewise assist in these efforts. We need to walk together and to move forward together for there is much yet to be done.
School for the Differently Abled: Many of you will know that the Ceylon School for the Deaf and Blind pioneered education for the differently abled in our country. We now run three schools, two in Ratmalana and one in Kaithady. The schools are residential and provide free accommodation and tuition. Hitherto, donations and income from endowments have met the expenditure. Bu with rising costs, the income has proved woefully inadequate. We have taken some steps and appealed to some of our partners, and we are hopeful that the schools can continue to provide the same services as in the past.
S Thomas’ College Gurutalawa: Another school that is experiencing financial difficulties is S Thomas’ College, Gurutalawa. As many of you know, the school was started in 1945 as a branch school of S Thomas’ Mount Lavinia on a picturesque farm donated to the school by Leslie de Saram. Dr Rollo Hayman, the first Headmaster, assisted by the Chaplain Canon John Foster and others, built the school up as a boys’ boarding school that afforded an all-round education. But over the years, particularly during the last couple of decades, the school’s fortunes have declined. The Board, assisted by a team of dedicated old boys and others, is engaged in putting into place a plan to revitalize the school and attract more students by providing that extra in all-round education that Gurutalawa is naturally equipped to provide. I hope the members of your Association can take this on as a special project by linking the school with donors who can assist the school in providing the infra-structural and educational facilities that are sorely needed. I will be happy to respond to any inquiries in this regard.
Link with Ripon and Leeds: There has been a significant growth in the links between our Diocese and the Diocese of Ripon & Leeds and Kurunagala. There have been a number of visits by clergy of the Dioceses. We also had a recent visit from the newly consecrated Bishop James Bell of Knaresborogh. There have also been exchanges of visits by teachers from our Church Schools. Bishop John Packer set up a Tsunami Relief Fund in the UK and the response to it was extremely generous and we are greatly encouraged. We keep in regular touch with Bishop John Packer and the Link Officer of that Diocese and these links help to strengthen our bonds of friendship in Christ.
Anglican Communion: We have been concerned by recent developments in the Anglican Communion. We were encouraged that the Eames Commission with equal representation of the global south and north and representing the variety of traditions within our Communion was able to achieve unanimity in presenting their report and recommendations. We had hoped that the Primates would carry these recommendations further and encourage the Communion to engage in a continuing dialogue towards reconciliation and healing. Bishop Kumara and I addressed a joint letter to the Archbishop of Canterbury stating that we considered it unfortunate that this did not happen. We believe a moratorium as recommended by the Windsor Report on:
(a) authorizing public rites of blessing for same sex unions,
(b) consecration to the episcopate of any person living in same gender union, and
(c) the intervention by bishops in dioceses other than their own,
should have been allowed to continue till Lambeth 2008. Excluding any Church from any of the Instruments of Unity was not the way to reconciliation and healing; it would only pave the way for an impaired or broken communion. The bonds of affection within our Communion should be celebrated and nourished, however strongly we disagree with the scriptural understanding of another. We were dismayed that the Primates were not even able to share the Cup at the Lord’s Table. ‘To turn away from one another is to turn away from the Cross.’
Partner Organisations: We continue to work closely with other Churches and ecumenical bodies in Sri Lanka. The ecumenical Theological College of Lanka continues to train most of our ministerial candidates. The Revd Dr Albert Jebanesan of the Methodist Church was appointed the new Principal last year. The National Christian Council of Sri Lanka also has a new chief executive in the Revd Dr Jayasiri Pieris from the Church of Ceylon, who was inducted as the new General Secretary in January 2005.
Obituary: We were sad to be informed last year of the death of the Revd John Elliott, Vice Chairperson of your Association. Fr John had a long association with the Church here. In the late nineteen thirties, he came as a teacher and Acting Chaplain to S Thomas’ College, Mount Lavinia. In the fifties, he served as Chaplain at Trinity College Kandy. He was proud of his marital and pastoral links with Sri Lanka. We mourn the loss of this deeply spiritual and kindly priest.
Many of you would have met St Elmo Gunasekera, who was associated with the Diocese for a very long time as Manager and Honorary Treasurer. He passed away quite unexpectedly earlier this year. He brought thought, care and distinction to his work. He was a person of discipline, honour and integrity and we shall miss his loyal presence very much. I have set up a Trust Fund in his memory, the income from which will go towards the welfare of church workers. I invite all friends of the Diocese and particularly those who knew St Elmo to contribute towards this Trust Fund.
With Peace and Blessings