St. Stephen’s Anglican Church, Negombo: A symbol of unity | Sunday Observer

St. Stephen’s Anglican Church, Negombo: A symbol of unity

26 November, 2017

Negombo is known as a predominantly Christian area and there is no shortage of churches belonging to all denominations, but there are a few that stand out due to their setting and architecture. We recently had the opportunity of visiting one such well-known church in this busy coastal town, known for the fisheries industry and a booming tourist trade just 40 km away from Colombo.

St. Stephen’s Anglican Church in Negombo is a historic church set in a beautiful landscape of lush greenery that overlooks the ancient Dutch Fort and the picturesque Negombo lagoon. It is a small yet beautiful church which has features of the Gothic architectural style such as a light, airy interior and stained glass windows. It was consecrated for worship by the Bishop of Colombo, Rev. R.S. Copleston on 31st July 1879.

The Church has a strong and faithful congregation. Generations of worshippers have called it their church. In the past, the Church membership consisted mainly of British Government officials working in the area, as well as members of the Sinhala, Tamil and Burgher communities who had embraced Christianity. During the fiftieth anniversary celebrations of the Church in 1929, Rev. W.P. Thomas was instrumental in re-starting the Harvest Thanksgiving Service, Choral Holy Communion and Choral Evensong on Sundays with a well trained choir. He was also responsible for increasing the membership of the congregation and purchasing additional land for a parsonage for the Vicar to reside in.

Trilingual service

According to a Church report, “a marked improvement in church attendance was witnessed during the incumbency of the Vicar, Rev. T.A. Jayawardane and the St. Stephen’s Anglican community had not only been firmly established but had also grown.”

As the congregation increased over time, the Church building was extended and a Baptistery was constructed. During 1977 and 1979, the church building was renovated and refurbished to coincide with the centenary celebrations of the church in July 1979. The centenary was celebrated with a trilingual service of Thanksgiving and a procession after which a cultural program was held.

According to the same church report, “The centenary celebrations fostered unity among the three different congregations. The Vicar’s empathy for his parishioners irrespective of age, language or social status was a good example that brought about friendship among the parishioners and they became very enthusiastic to celebrate the centenary with a trilingual service of Thanksgiving.”

In July 2004, the 125th anniversary of the church was celebrated with a trilingual service of Thanksgiving by the Archdeacon of Colombo, Rev. Chrisantha Mendis.

A parish hall and a community development centre and assistant curates and sextons’ quarters were built to mark the 125th anniversary. Church activities and functions are conducted in the parish hall and community development centre. Avurudu celebrations and Christmas celebrations are conducted in the parish hall. Choir practice and social outreach programs such as a drug rehabilitation program and nutrition centre are conducted in the community development centre. An Independence Day thanksgiving service is also celebrated with the Vicar hoisting the National Flag.

Spiritual education

The church has links with orphanages and the Seeduwa Deaf Colony which helps students and the handicapped. The church also conducts many youth programs and has a Sunday school to foster spiritual education among students. Three days of Evangelistic meetings were conducted recently by Vijaya Corea which was attended by visitors and non-Christians. The church report states that “music played an important role, with both organ and guitar music accompanying the church services. The Sunday evening services featured a lot of music and many parishioners, foreigners and non-members attended it. The church also encouraged young musicians to become organists. The spiritual programs during this period were the Evangelical mission service at Dalupotha, Bible studies and Sunday evening services in English attended by foreign visitors and parishioners.”

The current Vicar of Stephen’s Church, Negombo, Rev. S. Jeyaraj says, “We are an Anglican Communion and have links with the Church of England. The present congregation consists of about 200 to 250 people. There are services in all three languages. On the first Sunday and the third Sunday we have one service, a trilingual service as a symbol of unity. The usual Sunday services are at 7.00 a.m. 8.30 a.m. and 9.30 a.m.”

The Vicar says that the church believes in doing a lot of social work.

“There are lots of widows in the fishermen’s community because many fishermen have died at sea and we assist them to support themselves. We have a village called Dalupotha where we do a house Church once a month on every fourth Sunday. We have the church service at the house.

The villagers come and read the gospel and celebrate the mass, or the Eucharist. We also have a Bible study. We have an annual sports meet that fosters unity among the communities. During Christmas, we have a carol service and celebrate with the spirit of unity.”

Pix: Shan Rupassara