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Church of Ceylon
(Extra-provincial to Archbishop of Canterbury)
 
Tsunami Community Response and Learning
by the Right Rev. Duleep de Chickera
 
CEYLON 050926-3
September 26, 2005

Excerpts from Bishop's Address to the Diocesan Council 2005

[The Church of Ceylon (E-P) - Ceylon] You are familiar with the statistics of victims. Many Anglicans and some of our property were affected. The standing Committee Report gives more details on our response as a Diocese.

This tragedy stunned us and shook our faith in God. Coupled with the unprecedented and spontaneous response of people of good will of all communities, were the hard questions that required frank answers. I am grateful to all those of our Diocese, particularly the Clergy, who responded in both areas. I am also grateful to the National Christian Council, and the Task Force and Relief and Rehabilitation Desk of the Diocese, all of whom have worked tirelessly to help reconstruct shattered lives and broken Communities.

Soon the continuing work and the evolving questions led to three emphases in our response to the tragedy. These are a concurrent commitment to Relief and Rehabilitation, Advocacy and a relevant Spirituality and Theology.

The ethnic composition of our Diocese and past experience in community service called for clear options and a definition of values. Accordingly, all external funding would be received through the centre and shared equally between the North, East and South. We also resolved that we would not exploit human suffering to strengthen our own image and interests. As a community based Church we realised we could not ignore other suffering and deprived communities in our work of rehabilitation. We are grateful to our Partners who gave us their blessings to engage on this stance known as "impartial justice". The handling of unprecedented large sums of money that people had entrusted us with brought its own lessons. We had to work speedily but not at the expense of financial accountability and discipline. For this competent financial services had to be obtained and effective systems introduced. A spirituality we need to acquire in Christ, is to learn how to intervene in the destinies of the afflicted with respect for human dignity. The possession and management of large funds can all too easily bring a sense of power and dominance. The Gospel demands that we remain vigilant regarding this pit-fall.

Through all this, adequate support and care for over worked clergy and Lay Workers in the affected areas, had to be provided. This included additional personnel such as Co-ordinators and ad-hoc Ministerial support; additional Pastoral visitations and Counselling, additional allowances for extra travel and entertainment, enforced vacations (!), and regular communications and the sharing of information and advice through the R and R Desk.

A lesson learnt at much cost has been our inadequacy as a Church to respond promptly and willingly to disaster. With a very few admirable exceptions I found it almost impossible to move our human resources at short notice to meet with the urgent needs of suffering humanity. Decades of war and other recurring calamities, somehow has not brought Disaster Management onto our agendas and seem to have done little to transform our sensitivities. These are crucial areas in the character of the Church we shall need to work on without delay.