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BISHOP’S CHARGE

“Do not remember the former things,
or consider the things of old.
I am about to do a new thing;now it springs forth,
do you not perceive it?
I will make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert.”
—Isaiah 43:18-19

Reverend Heshan De Silva President of the Baptist Sangamaya of Sri lanka and invited members from ecumenical partner churches and my dear membersof the council, it is my pleasure to welcome you all for the 62nd annual session of the Diocesan council. We thank Rev Heshan for accepting our invitation to be the chief guest at this occasion. He has been an experienced pastor, educator, administrator and friend in the years gone by and he has been appointed as the head off the Baptist Church in Sri lanka. We wish him well in his ministry and we are most pleased to hear from him on this special day. I also thank you for the welcome you have given me and my family as we begin our journey in this capacity from this calendar year onwards. We as clergy and lay members gathered here today as well as the thousands of our members across this great diocese are thankful for God’s grace during the past years of the Diocese and very specially for work that has been initiated in the past few months. We are confident that God who journeys with us will guide us in the many days to come.

The message to the prophet Isaiah comes from God at a time of calamity. It is the time of exile and captivity. The people have lost the way of life as they knew it and areunable to see a new path of freedom. In that context God says not to keep your mind focused on the past, as it will only discourage you from looking for new things that God wants to give you. It is a message of courage; not to be discouraged at what has happened but to have courage to expect much greater things in the future.

We have endured discouragement in our personal, family, social lives and even in the life of the Church. We all know how it feels to lose courage. It becomes difficult to move beyond that stage and it becomes hard to imagine how matters can be better in the future. This was also the question these people kept on asking. The passage gives two examples of a wilderness becoming a way and the desert becoming rivers. There is nothing God cannot accomplish, and times of discouragement are the best times to experience God’s power and fulfilment. The path and rivers signifies direction and nourishment. God asks people to keep believing as they are not left alone, God journeys with them and God knows what we go through. And indeed God will provide what must be present for people to start believing. There can never be greater consolation to us Christians than to know that God is always looking at how to direct us and nurture us.

We have come to a significant period in the life of the Diocese where, we have been able to appoint a Bishop on our own will after an absence of a few years. We are now in need of direction and nourishment in terms of spirituality and mission. Some areas of our diocesan activities have been left unattended for quite some time and we need to work at rectifying and putting in order these aspects. We also need to begin a new chapter in terms of commitment, relationships, planning and development. I call upon each and every one of us to have courage and hope and play your part in whatever position you may be in for the betterment of the diocese. We need to put aside the past and the things that sometimes hold us back from seeing how things can be different. We need to have in mind once again of the mission that was entrusted to this diocese and its unique challenges. We need to always foster a progressive spirit and work as a team to realize our goals.

Diocesan matters
The Diocesan of Kurunegala was instituted as a missionary diocese by the first Bishop of Kurunegala Lakdasa De Mel taking into consideration its uniqueness. His Lordship greatly appreciated the diverse nature of the diocesan area as well as unique challenges the diocese faced. We know he felt a deep compassion towards the cultural aspects of the diocese whether it be language, music or architecture. He was instrumental in making the diocese proclaim the faith ’in culture’. Thanks to his intervention we now have sung liturgies with unique settings which still amaze non local congregations. He also had to deal with real issues of poverty, injustice, inequality due to the presence of most farmer, labourer and worker capacities. Our theology must be borne through this context. It must address the struggles of the people as well as the diverse cultures present. Bishop Lakdasa famously initiated dialogue with all these factors and to this day we remember his original thinking. It is our mission to continue this even in the modern day. Inculturation and Interfaith dialogue are more than ever needed to belong, reconcile and work together. As I begin my ministry in this diocese I have kept these in my mind and will strive to develop same.

I have been able to make official as well as casual visits to parishes around the diocese, and chair meetings on almost all diocesan institutional committees. The response we have received so far has been very good, and I would encourage the leaderships to continue their good work. As you would know due to the absence of a Bishop in the diocese there were some areas which have been neglected for some time. We have also been able to locate a few areas which need our attention most such as the missionary areas, travel, refurbishments, new ministers, publications etc. Through the support of many of our donors we have now completed parish buildings in Hiriyala and Liyangala as well as looking forward for more parish institutions in the future.

As you would know our financial situation continues to worry us. So far we have made arrangements with well wishers from abroad to assist us in our most urgent financial needs. The most important decision that I was able to make regarding this has been to appoint a Bishops Trust Advisory Committee which has members from the standing committee, incorporated trustees and other experts. They are now in charge of the best utilization of property and finances. Together we have looked at several of our property, at ending legal disputes and making use of it for the best of the diocese. So far the committee has made several effective suggestions of property management to which we will attend with urgent need. We are also in the process of writing to our well wishers abroad to request them for specific funding programmes. We hope this will ease the burden of the main budget. We thank the congregations for their support in this regard and would also welcome your support further.

I have also been able to visit the Roman Catholic, ecumenical and other faith partners in and around the diocese in a bid to maintain good relationships. We hope that these ties will benefit us in many matters going forward. We are specially called to witness among a very diverse ethnic and religious populations and we must be committed for the harmonious dialogue within the religions and other Christian denominations.

Country
Our country in the past year has faced good times with better and open governance but on the other hand with political instability, rising cost of living and extremism. The government’s course of action was rejected for most parts at the local elections and it has given much matters to ponder on the needs of the country. Further there is a continuing debate on corruption, debt and policies which also make the economy and impression of the world on the country unstable. We have also faced natural disasters and religious extremism: both which we grieve and have assisted as well as possible in relief. It becomes our duty as citizens of this beautiful country to make sure that we become instruments of peace and at all times be ready to assist in times of disaster. As we know all our Bishops envisioned at working for social justice causes within the country and it is my duty to further these challenges. In our diocese itself we face many issues with regard to corruption, violence, drug abuse and the ethical decline of behaviour. We must present our Christian view point on social justice issues and raise our voices against any corruptive force that threaten human dignity and oppress people. It is our prayer that our country will move forward in economy as well as ethics and morality.

Future planning
We are in the process of selecting important areas of mission in the diocese and attending to these matters with urgency. Among these we have made it a point of welcoming persons into ministry who feel they are called. We are now implementing a process in this regard. We have also observed four areas of neglect in mission one being the repairing of clergy homes, missionary area travel, publications and religious/theological education We feel that by uplifting these aspects our ministry can be affected for the better. We have already developed on religious education which we hope will be a great asset to our children who are the future. We continue to work with them and the youth to engage their contributions as well in our planning. Staying true to the vision of our founder we aim to develop liturgy, music and contextual thinking. Already there have been plans for workshops and seminars. Through these we hope that we will be able to present our faith in acceptable and creative ways. We are also looking into ways of developing our publications internally as well as externally to give more publicity to the work we are attempting as well as to articulate our uniqueness. A directory which gives the history and mission of each parish is in the process of printing and which we hope that outside donors will assist in developing specific mission areas.

Thanks
It is my duty to thank the Vicar General for his support and assistance during the past few months and especially the past year. We are also indeed grateful for many well-wishers around the world and around the country who pray and assists us in our pilgrimage. We also thank Emeritus Archdeacon Ven. Nimal Wickramaratne for his valuable services and we wish him well. We also thank our new Archdeacon Ven. George Melder for his role within the diocese and for his support. Much gratitude must also be paid for the many clergy and lay who take part in varied organizations within the diocese spending their time, energy and talents for the betterment of the Church as well as the onward journey of the Diocese. Thanks are also due toall the volunteers who serve in different capacities in all the committees such as the financial, property, BTAC, Bishop’s Legal Advisory, Architectural and other related mission and advisory committees. It is also with thanks that we remember the Diocesan office, Bishop Lakshman Wickremasinghe Centre and Bishop’s Office staff together with Mr Raju and Mr Banda who on a daily basis assist with the many tasks that are brought upon them and at times serving under difficult circumstances. It is with total gratitude I thank my wife Arlene, children Sethlath and Sethsara as well as the many family members who stand by me and give their encouragement and support at all times. It is our ultimate honour to pay tribute to God Almighty who has gifted us this great privilege of working in this Diocese and we are confident that God will lead us and guide us in the many years to come, just we have been able to witness God’s comfort and kindness in the past years.

Rt. Revd. Keerthisiri Fernando

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