WITNESS AND NURTURE
Ecumenical Collaboration and Christian Discipleship
Emerging from the vision and mission of the NCCSL, the primary mandate and call of Council is to remain committed as well as to further enhance Ecumenical collaboration, Christian fellowship and Discipleship in all its engagements. The Ecumenical task therefore is the fulfilment of a greater vision, and the desire of our Lord Jesus Christ.
Therefore, objectives of this strategic priority are oriented towards promoting unity and commitment among the Constituent members. The Churches are called to witness through prayer and are encouraged to closely engage as well as extend services towards the empowerment and development of God’s children, particularly the poor and marginalized. The ecumenical collaboration will continue to focus on matters of social concern, where the intended initiatives are to further strengthen ecumenical united witness as well as to respond to the existing needs. This is believed to be a greater vocation and biblical mandate which invites churches to continue their ministry with wisdom, prudence and courage for the benefit of all people.
The year under review has been an extremely challenging period with the tragic Easter attack in April 2019, followed by a Presidential and Parliamentary elections and the unprecedented coronavirus pandemic resulting in curfew, lockdowns and social distancing. Congregations could not meet or assemble for the first time for a prolonged period, unseen even in the extremely volatile days in the nation. Yet the Church of Jesus Christ moved on strengthened in the faith and continued in its call to serve the people. Development and promotion of practical guidelines and tools for member constituencies for ecumenical collaboration, collective events to bring us ecumenically together in common witness and celebration, the active involvement in Christian Student Education initiatives across the country through radio and TV programming were the key highlights of the year. This key strategic area is further unpacked and reported through the following objectives.
- Prayer and worship
- Discipleship and renewal
- Learning and edification
- Ecumenical formation and leadership
- Accompaniment and collaboration
1 PRAYER AND WORSHIP: To experience and celebrate the presence and fullness of God’s reign
In celebration of Christian Unity, the Annual United Service was organized jointly by the National Christian Council of Sri Lanka and the National Catholic Commission for Ecumenical and Interreligious Dialogue on 19 January 2020, at All Saints’ Church Borella. The theme for this year was based on the Scripture Passage which states “They showed us unusual kindness” (Acts of the Apostles 28:2).
Rev. N. Arulnathan, Principal of the Theological College of Lanka (TCL) shared God’s Word, while the choirs of All Saints Church – Borella and Methodist Church – Maradana graced the service with their vocals. The service concluded with a Fellowship Tea.
The service was conducted by Bishops and Priests from the Roman Catholic Church and Heads of the NCCSL constituent churches. There was a good participation and we continue to journey in this work and hope that ecumenism will continue to strengthen our relationships.
National Day Service
A service of Prayer and Thanksgiving was held on 04th February, 2020 at the Baptist Church, Bagathale Road, Colombo 03 at 6.15 a.m. in commemoration of the 72nd Year of independence, with the participation of the leaders and members of the NCCSL constituent churches. The service was well attended with over140 people and the message was delivered by Rev. Asiri P. Perera, President/Bishop of the Methodist Conference. The Service concluded with the hoisting of the National Flag by Rev. Heshan de Silva, the Chairperson of the National
Christian Council of Sri Lanka, followed by a customary fellowship breakfast. This Service was organized in collaboration with the Department of Christian Religious Affairs.
Strengthening Christian Unity, Joint Witness and Ecumenical Relationships
A booklet titled “Strengthening Christian Unity, Joint Witness and Ecumenical Relationships among our Congregations/ Denominations” was published last year.
The aim of this publication is to strengthen Christian Unity and witness amongst the congregations and are shared at our Regional Council Sessions, including our workshops and programmes.
Mobile Prayer Network
The mobile prayer network consisting of volunteers continued to uphold all our activities, programmes, events, pressing needs of the nation and individuals through prayer. We are well supported by our volunteers who regularly pray and uphold the needs shared through the mobile prayer network. We encourage members to continue their partnership with this ministry.
In order to facilitate the common study of the Scriptures systematically, The Common Lectionary of 1992 was revised adopting the current needs of the Sri Lankan churches. The National Christian Council of Sri Lanka published an Ecumenical Lectionary for the period 2020 – 2022 and was printed in all three languages. It is very encouraging to note that the lectionary is widely used in the NCCSL constituent churches.
4. Ecumenical Formation and Leadership: To promote Ecumenical Leadership and strengthen commitment to the ecumenical journey, focusing on specific sectors such as Children, Youth, Women, Men, Clergy and Professional groups.
Young Clergy Symposium 2020
Following the Presidential Election in November 2019 and the challenges thereto in the socio-political arena in the midst of religious extremism, a Young Clergy Symposium (residential)
was held in Colombo from February 12-14, 2020, on the theme ‘STEP INTO DOCTRINAL (DHAMMA) AUTHENTICITY, BEYOND INSTITUTIONALISED RELIGION’. The purpose was to encourage and equip the younger Christian clergy in their ministry and mission of God to think and act towards the Reign of God with Kingdom values in a pluralistic society as Sri Lanka. The conference was attended by 34 clergypersons from 8 denominations affiliated to the National Christian Council of Sri Lanka and the sessions were facilitated as per above the symposium enabled the clergy came to a deeper understanding of God’s Mission in an act of solidarity and ecumenical partnership and for such implementation in their respective regions at grass root levels.
Young Clergy Symposium – Topics and Resource Persons
|Day 1||Day 2||Day 3|
|Worship Welcome/Introduction||Bible Study : “Good news in the midst of living faiths” Rev. Fr. Rohan Silva||Bible Study : “Globalization and Dhamma” Rev. Dr.Jayasiri Peiris|
|Bible Study : “From Institutionalized Religion to Dhamma” Dr. Vijith Rohana||“Healing and Religiosity” Reverend Heshan De Silva||Identifying current regional and national Christian responsibilities|
|Discussion||“Healing of Ethnic Wounds and Religious Wounds” Mr. Ralston Weinman||Discussion|
|“Christian Witness and Ethics” Revered Saman Perera||Discussion||Discussion|
|‘Sri Lankan History and religion” Dr. Nirmal Ranjith Devsiri||‘Current political trends in Sri Lanka and Religious Freedom” Bishop Emeritus Rt. Rev. Kumara Illangasinghe|
|Dialogue – Open Form “Sri Lanka Christian Education and Challenges” Bishop Emeritus Rt. Reverend Kenneth Fernando Reverend Sarath Wickramasinghe Reverend Dushantha Rodrigo||Dialogue – Open Form “Christian Traditions and Protection of Sri Lankan Culture ” Rt. Reverend Keerthisiri Fernando Reverend Priyantha Wijegunawardena Reverend Sujithar Sivanayagam Reverend Marc Billimoria|
5. Accompaniment and Collaboration: To enhance Christian Unity and nurture relationship through collective mission and witness
Regional Councils for the very purpose it stands for becomes the focal point for ecumenical activities and programmes on behalf of the Council promoting unity through Bible Studies, Fellowship, Prayer and Action. Regional Councils have been strengthened in the following areas.
- Colombo Central
- Colombo North
- Dehiwala / Mt. Lavinia
PROMOTE AND STRENGTHEN
Justice, Peace and Reconciliation
Justice is the pre-condition for peace, and peace, the pre-condition for justice. The Christian scriptures makes justice the inseparable companion of peace and this Biblical imperative leads to healing, reconciliation and transformation. Hence, the ecumenical calling of the National Christian Council of Sri Lanka, to promote justice, peace and reconciliation.
This ministry calls for ecumenical engagement by the churches with the purpose of addressing social injustice, hatred, inequalities and discrimination, focusing on restoring unity and promoting a harmonious relationship and mutual understanding amongst communities and religious groups. The NCCSL continues to work with Inter-faith leaders as well as with different religious groups with the aim of fostering dialogue, addressing ethnic and religious tensions and thereby promoting Unity. The Council recognizes the important role of civil society and continues to initiate collaborative activities focusing on empowerment and social mobilization,
supporting dialogue among ethnic communities, confidence-building measures and the promotion of trust and positive communication. Particular emphasis was given to interventions
aimed at bridging the inter-ethnic and Inter-faith divide at the local and national level through advocacy during this period when the ethno – religious fabric of the nation was extremely fragile.
This key strategic area is further unpacked and reported through the following objectives.
- Interfaith initiatives for community Cohesion
- Peace Building, peace education and spiritual formation
- Healing and transformation Ensuring Human dignity and security of marginalized and vulnerable communities
- Advocacy on contemporary socio, economic and political issues
1 Inter faith Initiatives for Community Cohesion: To systematically address issues of religious freedom and to enable religious leaders and groups to engage actively in dialogue, build consensus and agree on initiatives that positively
Contribute towards harmonious relationships, co-existence and mutual understanding.
Stemming from the Easter Attacks and the fragile nature of national harmony, the NCCSL continued to proactively identify opportunities to identify creative initiatives to enable people to go beyond their victimhood and heal themselves and their communities, promote knowledge, to celebrate commitment to spiritual values, provide space or forum where groups and individuals could meet, listen, learn and share experience and to commence dialogue to develop a spirit of health cooperation and solidarity.
The need for ‘sustainable peace’ for the development of the country is vital Therefore, the NCCSL continued to look for possible opportunities to develop linkages with other like-minded organizations and development agencies to work in the areas of conflict transformation and peace building. The NCCSL promotes the need for dialogue to be undertaken in a spirit of forgiveness and non-retaliation so that people move towards respecting, understanding and
accepting one another’s differences in an atmosphere of justice and equality.
Therefore, NCCSL continues to expand its energy and resources in establishing and promoting dialogue.
NCCSL continues to work with interfaith leaders as well as with different religious groups with the prime aim of fostering dialogue, addressing ethnic, religious divides and thereby promoting
unity. Our goal is to enhance the capacity through their collective spiritual strengths powered by their respective religious foundations to make the leap required for the change. This process was further strengthened by the already initiated local level activities and interfaith initiatives, while continuing to motivate members of different faiths to learn about each other’s beliefs, practices and to create greater companionship and understanding.
The NCCSL continues the interfaith journey in two phases. Firstly, with the interfaith forums regionally at grass root level with local religious and community leaders initiated through the churches, regional councils and diverse inter faith forums. Where necessary or an opportunity
exists, interfaith regional forums have been formed. Secondly through the ‘national forums’ established independently as called by the State or initiated based on the situation of the country. The goal is to address the wider population in times of conflict.
These forums have also acted as advocacy and lobby groups against social injustice, violence and marginalization.
Inter-faith Regional Activities
During the year with the timely visit of Fr Michael Lapsley, meetings were initiated regionally and nationally.
- An open forum discussion with Fr Michael Lapsley and monks on the relevance and the faith context of healing of memories from different religious theological understandings was conducted at the ‘Walpola Rahula Institute’.
- Inter-religious discussions were held periodically amongst the clergy and the laity in Ampara, Anuradhapura, Mannar, Rajanganaya, Kantalai Colombo, Galle, Matara,Hambantota and Hatton Regions.
- Meetings were conducted both month and bi monthly to collectively respond to the following identified challenges.
- Peace activism in the face of the government’s policies on peace
- Facing the nationalism challenge
- Develop interreligious and inter-ethnic harmony
- Building peace and reconciliation through dialogue and to start building bridges across ethnic and religious communities.
- To ensure religious freedom for all leaving aside pre conceived notions and suspicions that lead to discriminatory behavior and actions.
- To eliminate fear and suspicion through open dialogue.
- Dialogues with communities, civil society people’s forums, movements, alliances
- Public Meeting at Christ Churc Dehiwala with Fr Michael Lapsley on the journey of healing
- Citizen Rights Committees have been formed to strengthen the rights of the citizens
- Awareness has been raised at community level.
- The Council networked with like-minded organizations and participated in various activities in promoting the rights of people.
- Anti-Muslim agitations and riots –networked with inter faith forums and religious groups at national and local levels to mitigate the escalation of violence, promoting tolerance and co-existence.
- Easter Sunday Attacks –
- Dialogues have been initiated in Colombo, Matara, Anuradhapura, Vavuniya and Batticaloa to address Post Easter Sunday Terror Attacks, co-existence, reconciliation and healing.
- Local level Religious and Civil Society Actors dialogue in Anuradhapura in August 2019
- Civil society organizations – engaged in peace building in Hambantota in August 2019
The following meetings were held as initiated by the participants of the above programmes
Inter-faith National Level Activities
- Continued ‘one on one’ and direct discussions with the national level religious leaders for solidarity and action with regard to the Eater Sunday Attacks
- Meetings for proactive responses and to be an advisory group to the key decision makers in the State
- Collective press briefing and media interviews as facilitated by NCCSL
Inter-faith Regional Activities
|Location||Date/s||No of Leaders|
|Colombo||09th October 2019||22|
|Hambantota||05th November 2019||25|
|Mannar||26th November 2019||18|
|Anuradhapura||13th Oct and 25th Nov 2019||48|
|Bandarawela –Uma Oya||06th Oct and 12th December 2019||55|
|Matara||15th October 2019||35|
- Continued discussions with Ven Banagala Nayaka Thero, who is actively involved in social relief activities and a promoter for peace and unity.
- ‘Critical Thinking Forum’ organized with Fr Michael Lapsley with Ven Galkande Dammananda Thero and the leading Buddhist monks and scholars
- Discussion with the heads of Churches/denominations and organizations with Fr Michael Lapsley over the future and the work aheain a fragile environment and the strategies so required
- Discussion with Muslim Community Leaders and Fr Michael Lapsley on the aftermath of the Easter Attacks and the journey ahead for the different communities
- A workshop on ‘Serving Humanity in a Broken World’ for Young Buddhist Clergy at the Postgraduate Institute of Pali and Buddhist studies conducted with Fr Michael Lapsley
- Assistance for Post Easter Sunday Terror victims – 50 affected families were provided with dry rations and 12 families assisted towards repairing the damaged shops in Minnuwangoda. The programme was initiated by the Inter – faith Forum for victimized Muslim and Sinhala families