St. Luke’s Church, Borella
visits St. Luke’s Church, Borella
@ ML /23 June 2006
Impressive though the structure may be, what is most striking about St. Luke’s Church, Borella, is its affable atmosphere and welcoming air. The aura of tranquility and peace that is synonymous with a place of worship is of course, present. Yet, it is Fr. Patrick Perera’s gracious smile that first makes a mark.
In his fourth year at St. Luke’s, on the eve of the Church’s 125th Anniversary, Fr. Perera said he was glad the church was used by all races alike. "We have services in Sinhalese, Tamil and English, and a special service for young people who prefer a lot of musical instruments and a more vibrant form of prayer," he said.
Building the church
Building St. Luke’s Church, Borella was the initiative of Dr. J. L. Vanderstraten M.D. who was concerned that the growing community of Christians in Borella and surrounding areas did not have a house of worship to meet for prayer. He formed a committee and as its treasurer launched the fund raising campaign.
Appropriately the church was dedicated to St. Luke, the beloved physician/evangelist and an Apostle of Lord Jesus Christ. The location of the church was in the vicinity of several Christian schools, hospitals, and residences of those in the medical profession who were also Christians. The church was built in the traditional Gothic style of architecture and lit by gas lamps. Rev. Ireland Jones laid the foundation stone on October 8, 1880 and nine months later the building was completed. The same Rev. Jones preached the first sermon in the little church of St. Luke at its dedication on June 30, 1881.
St. Luke’s Church was part of the Kotte Mission. The congregation was mostly students from the two CMS boarding schools situated in Ward Place and Rosmead Place, the staff and all the medical professionals who resided in the vicinity. Services were conducted in all three languages. From 1895 to 1928 clergy from Kotte, Galle Face and the Diocese ministered to the congregation. The church launched several missionary activities. Rev. G. T. Fleming in whose time the Fleming Hall was built, and the Revs. G. S. Ameresekera, G. B. Perera, D. L. Welikala and V. B. Muthuveloe ministered to the congregation. In 1929 Rev. Ivan Corea was appointed incumbent of the parish.
Transformation of the church to its present style of Sri Lankan architecture took place during the 25 years Rev. Ivan Corea was incumbent. It became necessary to enlarge the building as there was an increase in the number of worshippers.
The new church
The new church was entirely designed by Rev. Ivan Corea, who personally drew freehand the designs for the pillars and octagonal tower of the sanctuary, also the doors and windows and all the decorative motifs. Ven. F. L Beven, Bishop’s Commissary on October 17, 1938, laid the tablet for the extension.
The extension was completed and the church consecrated on the day of its diamond jubilee on June 30, 1941 by Bishop Horsley. The faithful parishioners gave generously in cash and material towards the structural expansion of the church.
The church launched several missionary activities and social service projects in the Wanathamulla area and with the Rodiya community in Narahenpita. Women and girls were taught needlework at the sewing classes. There was a night school at which the boys were taught English.
A few years later girls were given nursing classes by the St. John’s Ambulance Brigade which helped them to find employment as nurses and aides in the hospitals. The Bible teachers were very active and Dr. Abraham Perera and his wife built a residence for them. There were Missions of Revival and Healing.
The Healing Mission of Bishop Dr. Pakenam Walsh made headline news in September 1942. There was an annual week of witness prior to St. Luke’s Festival on October 18. A special service for those in the medical profession was held at St. Luke’s which was very well attended by those in the healthcare service. There was also a daily morning service at 5.30 a.m. which was attended by medical personnel before reporting for duty.
Rev. Ivan Corea was the longest serving vicar at St. Luke’s: from 1929-1954. At the time Rev. Swithin Fernando took over from his predecessor the parish was well equipped. The camaraderie that prevailed among the members of the congregation made an impression on the new vicar. He was quick to spot the need for a place in which they could meet socially.
The parish hall became a reality. All church activities are carried on in this hall. It has also been the venue at which talented members of the youth fellowship produced and staged dramas of high quality to packed audiences. There were Easter rRallies and several family day outings and excursions to the sanctuaries, ancient cities and to the north.
Rev. Charles Thomas began to minister in 1961 and had a long and fruitful ministry for 18 years following the footsteps of his predecessors, carrying on with the ongoing outreach projects. There was Bro.Mandus Healing Mission and Bingham Revival Mission, the carol service with nativity plays staged by the Sunday school children, dramas by the youth at Easter, family picnics and excursions.
Rev. Kenneth Fernando took charge of St. Luke’s in 1979. The Centenary Celebrations were conducted on a grand scale. A Trust Fund was launched to mark the Centenary and a sum of Rs.500,000 was raised. A Holy Communion Service in Sinhala at Christmas was given live coverage on television, at which the celebrant was Rev. Kenneth. During his ministry the Ridgeway Creche, Elders Home at Nawala, and Free Medical Clinic for parishioners and people in the neighbourhood were inaugurated.
In 1984, Rev. Desmond Goonesekera was appointed vicar. No stranger to St. Luke’s, having served as asst. curate to Fr. Charles Thomas, Fr. Desmond brought in a spiritual revival. Youth Fellowship members attended Sunday evening service after their meetings. Singing of choruses was introduced at this service accompanied by organ and guitar music played by the vicar. These services were popular with the younger generation not only of St. Luke’s but other churches as well.
Mission family camps, the first of which was conducted in 1986 was open to all Anglican churches. Many shared in the blessing of participation. The follow up Mission School on Saturdays helped many to grow stronger spiritually.
Participation of the young
During the 125 years of witness some young people of the parish touched by the Holy Spirit have offered themselves for full time ministry within the diocese and in other Christian organisations, Rev. Perera said. Clergy who ministered have been elevated to archdeacons, bishops and an archbishop.
No doubt St. Luke’s Church will continue to be a beacon of light and hope in a time when these are much needed commodities, here and in the hereafter.
St. Luke — the patron of physicians and surgeons
Luke, the writer of the Gospel and the Acts of the Apostles, has been identified with St. Paul’s ‘Luke, the Beloved Physician’ (Colossians 4:14). We know few other facts about Luke’s life from scripture and from early church historians.
It is believed that Luke was born a Greek and a Gentile. Colossians 10-14 speaks of those friends who are with him. He first mentions all those ‘of the circumcision’— in other words, Jews — and he does not include Luke in this group. Luke’s gospel shows special sensitivity to evangelising Gentiles.
It is only in his gospel that we hear the parable of the Good Samaritan, that we hear Jesus praising the faith of Gentiles such as the widow of Zarephath and Naaman the Syrian (Lk.4:25-27), and that we hear the story of the one grateful leper who is a Samaritan (Lk.17:11-19). According to the early Church historian Eusebius Luke was born at Antioch in Syria.
In our day, it would be easy to assume that someone who was a doctor was rich, but scholars have argued that Luke might have been born a slave. It was not uncommon for families to educate slaves in medicine so that they would have a resident family physician. Not only do we have Paul’s word, but Eusebius, Saint Jerome, Saint Irenaeus and Caius, a second-century writer, all refer to Luke as a physician.
We have to go to Acts to follow the trail of Luke’s Christian ministry. We know nothing about his conversion but looking at the language of Acts we can see where he joined Saint Paul. The story of the Acts is written in the third person, as an historian recording facts, up until the 16th chapter. In Acts 16:8-9 we hear of Paul’s company; "So, passing by Mysia, they went down to Troas. During the night Paul had a vision: there stood a man of Macedonia pleading with him and saying, "Come over to Macedonia and help us." Then suddenly in 16:10 ‘they’ becomes ‘we’: "When he had seen the vision, we immediately tried to cross over to Macedonia, being convinced that God had called us to proclaim the good news to them."
So Luke first joined Paul’s company at Troas at about the year 51 and accompanied him into Macedonia where they travelled first to Samothrace, Neapolis, and finally Philippi. Luke then switches back to the third person which seems to indicate he was not thrown into prison with Paul and that when Paul left Philippi Luke stayed behind to encourage the Church there. Seven years passed before Paul returned to the area on his third missionary journey. In Acts 20:5, the switch to ‘we’ tells us that Luke has left Philippi to rejoin Paul in Troas in 58 where they first met up. They travelled together through Miletus, Tyre, Caesarea, to Jerusalem.
Luke is the loyal comrade who stays with Paul when he is imprisoned in Rome about the year 61: "Epaphras, my fellow prisoner in Christ Jesus, sends greetings to you, and so do Mark, Aristarchus, Demas, and Luke, my fellow workers" (Philemon 24). And after everyone else deserts Paul in his final imprisonment and sufferings, it is Luke who remains with Paul to the end: "Only Luke is with me" (2 Timothy 4:11).
Luke’s inspiration and information for his Gospel and Acts came from his close association with Paul and his companions as he explains in his introduction to the Gospel: "Since many have undertaken to set down an orderly account of the events that have been fulfilled among us, just as they were handed on to us by those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and servants of the word, I too decided, after investigating everything carefully from the very first, to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus" (Luke 1:1-3).
Luke’s unique perspective on Jesus can be seen in the six miracles and 18 parables not found in the other gospels. Luke’s is the gospel of the poor and of social justice. He is the one who tells the story of Lazarus and the rich man who ignored him. Luke is the one who uses ‘Blessed are the poor’ instead of ‘Blessed are the poor in spirit’ in the beatitudes. Only in Luke’s gospel do we hear Mary’s Magnificat where she proclaims that God "has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly; he has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty" (Luke 1:52-53).
Love for mary
Luke also has a special connection with the women in Jesus’ life, especially Mary. It is only in Luke’s gospel that we hear the story of the Annunciation, Mary’s visit to Elizabeth including the Magnificat, the Presentation, and the story of Jesus’ disappearance in Jerusalem. It is Luke that we have to thank for the Scriptural parts of the Hail Mary: ‘Hail Mary full of grace’ spoken at the Annunciation and "Blessed are you and blessed is the fruit of your womb Jesus" spoken by her cousin Elizabeth.
Forgiveness and God’s mercy to sinners is also of first importance to Luke. Only in Luke do we hear the story of the Prodigal Son welcomed back by the overjoyed father. Only in Luke do we hear the story of the forgiven woman disrupting the feast by washing Jesus’ feet with her tears. Throughout Luke’s gospel, Jesus takes the side of the sinner who wants to return to God’s mercy.
Reading Luke’s gospel gives a good idea of his character as one who loved the poor, who wanted the door to God’s kingdom opened to all, who respected women, and who saw hope in God’s mercy for everyone.
Reports of Luke’s life
The reports of Luke’s life after Paul’s death are conflicting. Some early writers claim he was martyred, others say he lived a long life. Some say he preached in Greece, others in Gaul. The earliest tradition we have says that he died at 84 Boeotia after settling in Greece to write his Gospel.
A tradition that Luke was a painter seems to have no basis in fact. Several images of Mary appeared in later centuries claiming him as a painter but these claims were proved false. Because of this tradition, however, he is considered a patron of painters of pictures and is often portrayed as painting pictures of Mary. He is often shown with an ox or a calf because these are the symbols of sacrifice — the sacrifice Jesus made for all the world.
Luke is the patron of physicians and surgeons.