St. Michael’s Anglican Church: Symbol of religious amity | Sunday Observer

St. Michael’s Anglican Church: Symbol of religious amity

9 April, 2017

 St. Michael’s Anglican Church, Polwatte, was founded by the British during the colonial era in 1853. Formally, it was a small Church, and the current building was constructed much later. St. Michael’s Church is situated close to a Buddhist temple, the Dharmakeerthiaramaya, a mosque and a Kovil nearby. This highlights the multi-ethnic, multi religious fabric of Sri Lanka. The co-existence of the four places of worship is a symbol of peace and harmony.

The current Vicar of St. Michael’s Church, Rev. Fr. Chrishantha Mendis says: “the significance of St. Michael’s Church is that it is not a Catholic church. We broke away from the Roman Catholic Church, and we belong to the Church of Ceylon which is governed by the Archbishop of Canterbury, Rev. Justin Welby”.

“This is an Anglican Church which believes in rituals. We use incense for the service on Sundays. During the Lent season we have the 14 stations of Jesus’ suffering on the Cross. We go from step to step understanding and praying and meditating on it. We also wear vestments for the service. On Maundy Thursday we have the normal Communion service and we have the Reserve Sacrament that is kept in a tabernacle. We take the Wooden Cross with the people. We go along this road, Hudson Lane, Nelson Lane and we do a road procession and the clergyman also carries the Cross. Sometimes, it is difficult for me to carry the Cross right throughout. I have two assistants who also carry the Cross.”

St. Michael’s Church is Rev. Fr. Mendis’s home parish and he remembers growing up there. He remembers: “I was an altar server and a chorister, and from here I offered myself to priesthood. I went for studies to the seminary. In 2003, I was sent here as the parish priest. They sent me here for four years. But having sent me for four years, they removed me in one year. The reason was that I was appointed as the Archdeacon of Colombo and I had to be in charge of the Cathedral. I shifted to the Cathedral and took up the duties of the Archdeacon. The Archdeacons are normally appointed for ten years. I served my ten years, and then the people here said, “you sent him before he finished his term, why don’t you send him back to us?”.

“I had to decide on a parish. They wanted me back. So I decided to come here. I have served here for the last four years. Both, my wife and I are from this parish. We sang in the same choir. We got married after I became a priest.”

The special architectural features of the Church include the beautiful stained glass windows depicting Biblical events. The Chapel is of great importance because many miracles have happened there. There are services every day. On Sunday morning there is an English service at 7.30 a.m., which is conducted with incense and rituals, and after that the Sinhala service and the Tamil service. There is also a 12 noon service.

Rev. Mendis says, “If you have a late Saturday night, you don’t have to get up early for the morning service, but you can come for the 12 noon service. This is a Communion service which does not exceed more than an hour. It has three hymns, a sermon, Bible readings and a Communion. I find that in recent times the numbers have increased. We were having about 40 to 50 people but it has now gone up to about 140 people.” The reputation of St. Michael’s Church in Sri Lanka is that the Church has an Anglican service with rituals. Couples like to get married there because when the Church is decorated it is a beautiful sight. It is known as a ‘Wedding Church’ where outsiders as well as foreigners can hold weddings. The Church also blesses many mixed marriages between individuals of different religions and communities. Rev. Fr. Mendis says that one of the disadvantages is that the Church does not have much garden space and parking becomes a problem. Churchgoers have to park their cars on a street nearby.

The Archbishop of Canterbury visited St. Michael’s Church some time ago, and more than 75 years ago, Queen Elizabeth II visited the Church. Foreign Bishops who come to Sri Lanka always make it a point to come to this Church.

St. Michael’s Church is involved in many social service activities. There is a project called Helping Hands which is a very important project that started many years ago when Rev. Fr. Mendis was a chorister. There is another project which was started by Rev. Fr. Mendis a few years ago for senior citizens. Parishioners and outsiders above the age of 60 are invited to the Church once a month for a get together.

Rev. Fr. Mendis says, “This is not a parish where there are controversial issues. It is a very united parish. We have a Sunday school and a Youth Club and we do have a dialogue with them.” The Church has a hall and an ancient pipe organ which is played on special occasions. There are no future plans for immediate refurbishing because the church has already been refurbished and expanded recently. It is one of the most popular churches in the Western Province, not only among the faithful but also among the general population.

Pictures by Shan Rambukwella