Sustaining the Scottish tradition of worship | Sunday Observer

Sustaining the Scottish tradition of worship

17 March, 2019
St. Andrew’s Scots Kirk, Colombo 3
St. Andrew’s Scots Kirk, Colombo 3

During the British occupation of Ceylon there were many Scots in the island. By 1840 there were so many of them in Colombo that it became necessary for them to build their own church. It is recorded that a Rev. Macvicar had served as a Scottish chaplain in the island. The Governor at that time J.A.S. Mackenzie, of Scottish origin laid the foundation stone for a small church in Fort. St. Andrew’s Church was in this area until 1906, when the congregation decided to move to Colpetty - Colombo 3.

In 1906, Governor Sir Henry Blake laid the foundation stone for a new church. The sanctuary was built in a year and dedicated to divine worship. The church retained the name of Saint Andrew (Patron saint of Scotland) and emphasised her Scottish tradition by adding the phrase “Kirk” meaning church, in Scottish dialect. Two other churches were built in Kandy and Haputale. The Church of Scotland traces its roots to John Knox who was deeply influenced by the reformist, John Calvin.

Since then St. Andrew’s church has maintained her presence as a historic church in the city. I met up with the resident vicar, Rev. William Davenie, known to his parishioners as ‘Rev. Bill’. As we entered the church, one of the first things he pointed to me was a memorial plaque dedicated to a former editor of the Ceylon Observer - the brand name of this newspaper in that era. Donald Ferguson had died in 1911 aged just 33, and this plaque had been erected by fellow journalists who had worked with him at Lake House and other newspapers.

Gothic style

Rev. William explained, “As you can see this church is adorned with stained glass windows. The church has been built in Gothic style, designed by architect Edward Skinner, while Walker & Sons were the contractors.

The stained glass is said to have arrived by steam ship sometime during 1921. The main chancel window reflects the Crucifixion and the south transept window is dedicated to the troops of World War 1, depicting the imagery of Saint Sebastian and Saint Martin.

The west window, displaying the Ascension of Jesus is dedicated to Rev. Alexander Dunn who was instrumental in building this church.” On the left side of the church stands a magnificent pipe organ, a complex instrument that yields glorious strains when played by an expert.

This is one of the few churches in Sri Lanka that still has a pipe organ. The stained glass window behind the altar has the imagery of Saint Paul and Saint Andrew. Saint Paul holds a Bible in his left hand and a sword in the right - perhaps implying as the scriptures say, the Word of God is a double edged sword. The overall visual of this church has the effect of a tiny castle. The noise of trains plying on the railway track nearby disturbs the tranquillity of this sanctuary now and then.

Rev. William ushered me into the Manse (church residence). This beautiful house was built in 1907 and is one of the last colonial buildings in Colpetty. The splendid wooden staircase is made of thick polished wood that leads to a first floor balcony. Old photographs demonstrate the journey of this church.


Rev. William ordained in 1976 has four decades of experience, having last served in America. He said, “We attract many tourists at this church as we are in the middle of many 5 star hotels. There are diplomats who worship with us.

The church organises many missions. Every Thursday we serve a rice and curry lunch for 100 people - those who work along the streets of Colpetty. I believe that God’s love must be shown in practical ways to the common people.

We have another project with the Mental Hospital at Mulleriyawa, where we maintain Ward 8 - we visit the inmates and spend time with them. Mental illness must not be shunned, these folks need care. This is followed by an extended service at the Netherlee Cottage - a transition home run by the church where inmates are taught to integrate with their families after being discharged from the hospital. It helps them regain their confidence and independence.

The church celebrates St. Andrew’s Day in November. We try and get a bagpipe group to play, enhancing our Scottish traditions”.

The Scots Kirk is famous for its acceptance of Christians from all denominations, in view of holding marriage services - not being regimented in human doctrines that often separates people. This again is a genuine reflection of the love that Jesus spoke of in the gospels.

For more than a century this Scottish parish has been a radiant witness of God’s enduring grace.