150th anniversary of the Holy Emmanuel Church,
Cultural integration through Christianity
by Fr. Keerthisiri Fernando
The great church or Mahapalliya at Rawatawatte in Moratuwa will be
celebrating its 150th anniversary on December 27, 2010. Although Holy
Emmanuel Church is 150 years old the Anglican congregation there has a
history of over 200 years. When the British took the coastal areas of
Sri Lanka from the Dutch in 1796, many buildings where the Dutch
worshipped became places for Anglican worship - the established religion
of the British Empire. Accordingly, at Rawatawatte, from the latter part
of the 18th century a Dutch building became a place of Anglican worship.
Holy Emmanuel Church,
The Dutch structure was built in 1675 on the site of the general
cemetery behind the present church. As the old building was in a
dilapidated state, a new church was built in 1815 to replace the old
As the church was closely associated with the then British Governor
Sir Robert Brownrigg it was called “Brownrigg Palliya”. By the mid 19th
century it was in poor condition and a proposal was presented to the
Bishop of Colombo by Gate Mudaliyar Jeronis de Soysa to ask the Governor
to authorize the building of a new church to replace the old one.
Consequently the necessary authorization was granted to build the new
church. Hence the church celebrating 150 years was created in 1860 as an
offspring of the previous churches.
Although introduced as a foreign faith, Christianity in Moratuwa is
strongly rooted today, with all its social and spiritual consequences.
The history of the past two centuries of the congregation and the 150
years of the Holy Emmanuel Church at Rawatawatte is a living witness to
this growth and progress.
One of the unique features of this church is that from the beginning
the church has been conducting worship mainly in Sinhala. This came
through the day-to-day life of people in the area who have been proud of
their language even under the British regime when prominence was given
to English. This is quite unique as the Anglican Church was the official
religion of the British Empire.
Today the tower of this church stands firmly at one end of the
village of Rawatawatte as a landmark and has marked the boundary of the
neighbouring village of Idama for one and a half centuries, and is an
integral part of the identity of these villages. The clock of this tower
rings its bells every 15 minutes according to its own style and has
become a natural rhythm of the area crossing boundaries of the villages
The spiritual nourishment received from this church through
liturgical activities has been spreading to the surrounding areas
through members, organizations and the activities of its congregation.
This church consists of many organizations to accommodate people of both
genders and all ages, and their needs such as education, aesthetic
activities, spiritual sustenance and exposures to be the basis of all
social and spiritual necessities of the members of this church, with
wider implications in society.
Although the Holy Emmanuel Church, Moratuwa is a parish in the
Anglican Diocese of Colombo it is mainly governed by the ‘Trust Deed’ of
the Parish. Administration of the parish is led by the Vicar and the
Board of Wardens who are the trustees of the parish.
This church has produced a remarkable example of integration and
assimilation of the universal cultural values of Christianity into a
local congregation in Moratuwa by retaining their Christian integrity
and identity. Over the years the parish has produced people who have
been involved in all spheres of life. They include professors, lawyers,
engineers, accountants, carpenters and teachers who have enriched their
professions with Christian values. For example, the skills of carpentry
have been making a significant contribution in the areas of the daughter
churches of St. Paul’s Church, Moratumulla, St. Michael’s and all Angels
Church, Willorawatte and The Church of the Healing Christ, Kadalana
which are the strong areas of the Master Carpenters of Moratuwa.
Over the years this church has been fortunate to have scholarly and
practical clergy enriching the life and work of people not only in this
church but also the whole area and beyond. For instance, three former
vicars of this church became Bishops, making a wider contribution to
church and society. After serving as vicars both E.A. Copleston and
Harold de Soysa became the Bishop of Colombo in turn, while Roger Herft
is the present Archbishop of Perth and the Chief Guest of the 150th
Located in a prominent place this church and its members have existed
peacefully with people from all spheres of life. The ways in which they
have been trying to maintain an inclusive attitude to accommodate
various people have been remarkable compared with the growing
exclusiveness in Sri Lankan society. As this congregation celebrates the
150th anniversary of their present church let us congratulate them and
wish them every success in carrying on their good work with such
commitment in the days to come.