Diocesan Council celebrates 125 years

Planning the work and mission of the Church
By Renuka Jeya Raj

The Colombo Diocese of the Anglican Church of Ceylon celebrates 125 years of its Diocesan Council this year. Anniversary celebrations will be held from Friday, October 22, commencing with a Thanksgiving Eucharist at the Cathedral of Christ the Living Saviour, Colombo. Bishop John Packer, Bishop of Rippon and Leeds and his wife Barbara will be chief guests at the celebrations.

The 125th anniversary will be commemorated throughout the Colombo Diocese and a special steering committee has been appointed to organise the celebrations. Some of the main initiatives planned are the Diocesan Council 125th Anniversary Endowment Fund, which has as its target Rs 25 million, to be used for the relief and rehabilitation of the ‘helpless and harrassed’ in the community, the publishing of a book titled ‘Salient Trends of the Diocesan Council’ as well as missions and programmes at regional level for women, youth and schoolchildren.

The Anglican Cathedral of Christ the Living Saviour

The Diocesan Council is the policymaking body of the Anglican Diocese, in effect its ‘Parliament’, and comprises the bishop, licensed clergy and lay representatives from all churches in the Diocese. Meeting annually for two to three days, the Diocesan Council reviews and plans the work and mission of the Church. A 27-member Standing Committee of clergy and laity is elected at each Council, with the Bishop and the four Archdeacons representing the four regions of Colombo, Jaffna, Galle and Nuwara Eliya as ex-officio members. This Standing Committee meets monthly thereafter, to carry forward the work of the Diocesan Council. Various committees and commissions are also appointed by the Standing Committee to oversee specific areas of the work of the church.

The evolution of the conciliary process over the years can be traced within the wider context of the emergence of the Anglican Church in Sri Lanka. Anglicanism was brought into (then) Ceylon by the British in 1796. The early Anglican Church was called the Church of England in Ceylon and belonged to the Diocese of London. Many clerics, missionaries and lay workers from Britain visited Ceylon to propagate the Gospel and their hard labours bore fruit. By 1816, a short span of two decades, the numbers of native Anglicans had grown to an extent that called for the establishment of an ecclesiastical body in Ceylon.

Accordingly, in 1833, the Anglican Church in (then) Ceylon came under the episcopate of the Diocese of Calcutta and in 1837, under the Diocese of Madras. It was only in 1845 that the Diocese of Colombo became a separate and independent Diocese within the world Anglican Communion. Forty years later, the fourth Bishop of Colombo, Bishop Reginald Stephen Coplestone felt the need for synodical government within the Diocese and an Ordinance was enacted in 1885 to create the Diocesan Council for the Church of Ceylon.

The first Diocesan Councillors were British and lounge suit was the dress code for lay Councillors. It was only much later that Diocesan Council was opened to the native Ceylonese. The first speech in Sinhala was made by Revd. Patmore Pereira, a deacon, in October 1966, of which Presiding Bishop Harold De Soysa provided the English interpretation.

At its 125th annual sessions this October, the Diocesan Council will reflect on its service to the nation in a variety of areas over the years, notably in education, including the education of the hearing and sight impaired, as well as its care for the elderly and the marginalised in society.

(The writer is a Member -Standing Committee, Diocese of Colombo)

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