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 Post subject: St. John the Baptist Church of Kegalla
 Post Posted: Fri Jan 27, 2006 3:27 am 
St. John the Baptist Church of Kegalla
One of the oldest churches in Sri Lanka

G. Mahen P. Siriwardena
@ The Island / 22Jan2006


According to a letter written by Rev. G. B. Ekanayake, MA,.DD, on the History of the Churches of the Diocese published in the THE CEYLON CHURCH TIMES of August 6, 1937, St. John the Baptist Church of Kegalla may be one of the oldest in Sri Lanka.

He says that the opening of the Church for Divine Worship took place on February 2, 1868. (Merely fifty plus years after the capture of the Kandyan Kingdom by the British)

He recounts what Bishop Claughton. said on the occasion: "We fixed to have an English morning service and an evening one in Singhalese. At 11 o'clock the approach to which was beautifully decorated. Rev. Mr. Gomez (From Kandy) and Mr. Herath who were to assist preceding us".

The three stained glass windows donated by the widow of J. P. Herath on June 15, 1863 is acknowledged by Bishop E. A. Copleston. in 1917.

It appears that F. R. Saunders, AGA of Kegalla and later Sir, Fredrick Saunders played a major role in the activities of the Church and probably the building itself a few meters from the Colombo-Kandy road on Miriswatta road in the heart of the Kegalla town. The Anglican Church is popularly known as the "Gal Palliya" for the reason that it is built on a rocky hillock.

There was a stream flowing by but not any more. It has become a municipal drain that takes the effluents of the small town of Kegalla from the east to the west.

In colonial times after church services children have played by this little stream, catching fish and frolicking in the water as their mothers lay the picnic lunch by the rocks above.

The planters came for the service from a distance and in those days with no restaurants and hotels like to-day, would make an outing of the occasion, bringing with them neat little boxes of sandwiches, tea and sometimes brandy in a flask. The horses grazed leisurely the lush green pasture in the meadows across.

The Church, architecture has not changed from the original. The belfry besides the church stands testimony to its ancient glory. The bell weighs thirty kilos and would peal vibrantly at the tug of its rope to bring the faithful to worship.

According to the incumbent vicar, Nimal Wickremaratne, the church was all spruced and beautified for Christmas last December.

The Kegalle Anglican church has done more than merely maintain a church or building. The owners of one acre of prime land in the heart of the town, it has fulfilled many social obligations.

There are over 28 boys aged between six and eighteen in the orphanage run by the church. They come from poor families from Deevala and Undugoda and are well cared for with boarding facilities, food, clothing and an education. They have grown up to be good citizens of the country.

The service rendered by the Parish priests of this church to help thousands of orphaned and underprivileged children from the Kegalla district is laudable.

There is some thing special about this little church. It has seen no modernization in many years. At best would accommodate seventy five people in the congregation. The pews are cramped but not damp, it is neither luxurious not extravagant... It is charmingly simple.

Perfectly positioned facing the East are three stained glass windows fitted in 1868 and inscribed with the name of. Rev. J. H. Herath. The beauty of these windows is that as the sun rises the rays illuminate the church with a rare glow offering the faithful a beautiful image of Baptism of Jesus by John the Baptist in the River Jordan. It also enlarges the scene of the Crucifixion placed in the centre of the stained glass window.

In the past a branch of a tree in the east side of the grounds would sway in the wind and the play of light and shade through the window would animate the scene of babptism and crucifixion it happen two thousand five years ago.

The belfry which stands in mute silence for much of the year came alive on Christmas day with its magnificent resonance of three strokes calling the faithful to prayer. It was the one hundredth and thirty seventh years call in this little St. John the Baptist's Church.

In times past the congregation consisted mainly of British planters and other colonial figures. Today ordinary people from all walks of life come to worship here - planters, lawyer's doctors and businessmen from around the Kegalle district.

The faith of the worshippers have not diminished nor will it ever, as the trust in the Holy spirit, though, invisible and invincible is the strongest regenerating force on earth and all heavens. It touches every soul, for no man, woman or child ever born was without agony, pain of body and soul or ecstasy in their life times.

As I worshipped on Christmas day, I came upon page 831 in the Bible beside me; it was Psalm 91. This Psalm was the very favorite of one of the greatest teachers Trinity College had produced, none other than G. Y. Sahayam, a man with a heart of gold and a simple charm who for over forty years served Trinity brilliantly teaching maths to generations of students.

In this moment I offered my thanks to the man who had tanned the hides off us for many years at Trinity. He is no more and I said a simple prayer to him that had made us what we are.

"He that dwelled in the secret place of the most High shall abide under the shadow of the almighty. - Psalm 91.

"I will say of the lord. He is my refuge and my fortress: my god: in him will I trust".

As I glanced across the pews of the congregation a few Sundays before, I saw the orphaned children in the front rows. As the offering bag passed each of them I saw them quickly pass it from one to the other in silence for they had nothing much to contribute. May be just a coin or two, but not in fat wallets. They have dug deep into their trouser pockets and gently slid the coins one by one. It is probably all the money they had and they willingly parted with it for the institution which serves them. In all probability they would not see another coin in the foreseeable future.

In chapter 6 Corinthian page 263 no- 10 there is the answer. "As sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; as poor, yet making many rich; as having nothing, and yet possessing all things"

G. Mahen P. Siriwardena, Kegalla.

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