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Sunday, 21 November 2010





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150th anniversary of the Holy Emmanuel Church, Moratuwa :

Cultural integration through Christianity

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 Dutch building.

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 in Moratuwa.

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 Anniversary celebrations.

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.


LANKAPUVATH - National News Agency of Sri Lanka
Telecommunications Regulatory Commission of Sri Lanka (TRCSL)
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