|St. Matthias Church, Lakshapathiya, Moratuwa
by N. T. B. Fernando
Soon after the maritime districts of our Country came under British rule in 1796 the Anglican Church commenced work in Moratuwa by opening a school. In 1815 Andrew Armour, proponent and later priest, a man remarkable by any standard of judgement allowed Merennage Andris Fernando of Lakshapathiya to build on his own land at Kaldemulla, a small chapel to serve the needs of the growing congregation in the Northern section of Moratuwa. This chapel which was situated between the Angulana lagoon and Kaldemulla Road and about 100 yards away from the Angulana Railway Station was closed down about two years later as a measure of retrenchment and the people had to wait 55 years more for a permanent place of worship.
In 1849, the First Church School was opened in Lakshapathiya and the school hall was used as a place of worship on Sunday. At the school festival held in 1869 Charles Henry de Soysa, Sri Lankas greatest philanthropist, agreed to assist in building a church for the village. The foundation for this church was laid on 24th February 1872 by the Rt. Revd. Hugh Willoughby Jermyn 3rd Bishop of Colombo and an account of the ceremony was published in the Examiner of 2nd March 1972. Under the foundation stone was laid a bottle containing different coins of Ceylon and an inscription engraved on a metal plate. The trowel was presented to the Bishop by the Founders eldest son. The Times of 1st March 1972 gave a , fuller account of the ceremony.
By the end of 1875 work was completed and the church was consecrated on St. Matthias Day, February 24th, 1876 by the Rt. Revd. Dr. R. S. Copleston Bishop of Colombo. The Lakrivikirana of 25th February and the Times of February 29, 1876 gave descriptions of the ceremony. The church was built on land donated by C H de Soysa who was mainly responsible in meeting the expenses.
The Trust Deed of the church provided inter alia, that Charles Henry de Soysa and Sellapperumage Amaris Fernando be Life Wardens of the Church. After the demise of C. H. de Soysa in 1890, S. Amaris Fernando continued to be the only Warden till 1903 when T. H. A. de Soysa, a son of the founder, V. Johannes de Mel and W. Hendrick Fernando were elected Wardens. S. Amaris Fernando continued as Life Warden.
In the early years the pastoral care of the parish was in the hands of the Colonial Chaplains and later the incumbents of Holy Emmanuel Church Moratuwa and the curates attached to it. Their services are gratefully acknowledged. However the name of Rev. E A Copleston who was later Bishop of Colombo has to be mentioned. He called this parish "my beloved Lakshapathiya" while a later incumbent, the Rev. Bertram Wickramanayake, said it was a tonic for him to come to Lakshapathiya.
With the increase in numbers the church was extended in 1889. A correspondent to the Diocesan Gazette of 15.3.89 gave a lengthy account of the consecration of the extension by Bishop R. Copleston. In 1919 four of the Founders sons, A. J. R., E. L. F., L. W. A. (later Sir Wilfred) and R. E. S. de Soysa extended and renovated the church. A mural tablet near the Baptismal font commemorates this extension.
On July 4th 1884 a society called the SUDHARMABIWURDHI SANGAMAYA- was formed with the objectives of promoting Christian morality and to improve the church. With the first in mind it started a monthly paper in 1885 and it was the first Sinhala Church Paper in Ceylon. Its editor was W. Hendrick Fernando, John Martinus Perera was the publisher and M. P. Perera, Bishop Kenneth Fernandos maternal grandfather who was also the first Lay Reader of the church, was the manager. Johannes Mendis Jayawardena was responsible for the cover design. On the first page was a verse in Sinhala composed by Samel Perera. Unfortunately the paper ceased to be published in 1886 but the Sangamaya continued its beneficial work for the parish. Though the Sangamaya is non-existent today, one of its projects viz. the raising of funds through tills distributed among the parishioners continues to this day. Such collections are offered on St. Matthias Day each year.
The first resident priest appointed to the parish was Revd. A Grenier who retired within a few months of his appointment in January 1914. The Revd. A B Karunaratne was appointed to fill the vacancy on 1st May 1914 and continued till end 1924 when he was appointed acting incumbent of St. Peters Koralawella and Revd. W P Fernando was appointed to St. Matthias. In 1926 the Golden Jubilee was celebrated from 23rd February to 3rd March with services both in the morning and evening. Older folk have praised the manner in which the celebrations were conducted. An excellent Souvenir giving a detailed history of the first 50 years was published. Subsequent editors of souvenirs have drawn freely from this publication and expressed their gratitude to the unnamed compilers of an invaluable souvenir in both Sinhala and English.
In 1926 Rev. A. B. Karunaratne returned to Lakshapathiya as Priest in charge and remained there till his retirement in 1934. He passed away in 1937 at the age of 74. Justice to the life and work of Revd. A. B. Karunaratne cannot be done in an article of this nature but suffice it to say that he was a living saint who spared no pains for the betterment of the parish. He maintained extremely friendly relations not only with his parishioners but also with those of other faiths. He was often a welcome visitor to the Kekiradeniya Temple at Lakshapathiya and a good friend of the Viharadhipathi with whom he was associated in many public welfare projects. A mural tablet in the name of the church with the inscription "Sacred to the memory of Alexander Baptiste Karunanaratne". Our parish priest from 1914 - 1924 and 1927 - 1934, a faithful Christian, devoted pastor and friend of Gods children. Much beloved" is a mute tribute to an outstanding priest. Today there are only handful of people in the parish who know him. One of his sons, Vernon was later Warden Treasurer and Auditor. The Karunaratne connection still continues in the parish.
Revd. A B Karunaratne was succeeded by the Revs. T C J Peiris, J. E. Mendis, V. W. Widyasagara, D. G. Gunasekera, C. L. Abeynaike, as Priest in charge of St. Matthias church in that order. They served the church dutifully according to their rights and the parish remembers them with gratitude.
The period of stewardship of Revd. C. L. Abeynaike is especially noteworthy. This was his first appointment to a parish having being a teacher at St. Thomas Mt Lavinia, and Uva College Badulla and Principal of Christ Church College Wattegama earlier. He brought to bear his outstanding qualities of head and heart and soon the parish of St. Matthias became a hive of activity with whole day programmes, quiet days, social welfare projects, intercession groups, excursions and pilgrimages just to name a few. After elaborate and meticulous preparations made in the preceding months the 75th Anniversary of the church was celebrated in a glorious and dignified manner from 14th February to 3rd March 1951.
Several Parish Missions were conducted over a along period as a preparation for the centenary of the Church which was celebrated from 14th February to 2nd March 1976 during the time of Revd. Chrisantha de Mel. The celebrations reached the standards attained at the 75th Jubilee. Revd. Chrisantha de Mels tenure of office from 1970 - 1976 needs more than a passing reference. A Biblical scholar and church historian of no mean repute, he carried out his pastoral duties with exemplary diligence and care. His time was devoted to the service of God and nothing else. The parish benefited immensely from his ministry. In spite of his vast wealth he was a man of simple ways and habits and rare humility. The parish loved him much. His tragic death in a motor accident deprived the church of one of its most illustrious and noble sons.
The other incumbents for the last twenty-five years have been Revd. Lloyd Weerasuriya, Revd. P. S. Bhareti, Revd. Gregory Pereira, Revd George A. Karunaratne, Revd. Patrick Pereira. They served at St. Matthias with much acceptance and are remembered with gratitude. Revd. Lokendra Abhayaratne popularly known as Pastor Lokki is the present incumbent. His tenure of offfice was extended last year to enable the church to celebrate its 125th Anniversary on 24th February 2001 under his able leadership.
The Sunday school is the oldest among Anglican Sunday schools in Moratuwa having been started in 1864 by Sellapperumage Agostinu Fernando in 1864. In 1869 it was removed to Holy Emmanuel Moratuwa and brought back to Lakshapathiya after a few years as a branch of the Holy Emmanuel Sunday school. On 4th September 1899 once again it became an independent Sunday school with the approval of the Bishops Commissary Ven. F. H. de Winton Archdeacon. Peter C. Fernando was the first superintendent and S. Cornelius Dias was the first Secretary.
Today it has 330 children on the roll and 38 teachers. The centenary of this event was celebrated on 4th September 1999 with a thanksgiving service attended by past and present teachers and students. All present were provided with lunch. A souvenir giving the history of the Sunday School was published while a photograph of Sellapperumage Agostinu Fernando was unveiled by the Bishop of Colombo.
The choir was started by Maththes Perera with ten others for the first parish dedication Festival in 1886. The harmonium used was a borrowed one. Later the church had one of its own due to the efforts of Peter C. Fernando. His daughter Irene Mendis was organist and Choir mistress for 64 years and her name was synonymous with the choir. Today we have a well-trained choir with a good reputation. It is a pleasure to hear them sing on various occasions. The large organ donated by F. B. de Mel in the late twenties gave yeomen service till it was replaced by a Kawai electronic organ donated by the children of W. E. Perera a past warden of the church.
A mission society was started in 1913. It performed excellent services for the parish. It had a Mission Band. It had a Literary Branch to cater to young persons irrespective of caste or creed. It started a free English Night School for the benefit of persons who could not afford to go to an English school. With the starting of other organisations interested in the mission Society waned and in the late sixties it ceased to function.
From time to time since 1891 the church had carol groups to proclaim the message of the Nativity in song and action. The Mothers Union is a very active group, which is always ready to give of its best in the course of its multifarious duties for the benefit of the Church and Society in general. The Youth Fellowship has done useful work since its inception and has proved to be a good training ground for church administrators. The Junior Guild is a very active organisation and has displayed much ability and talent in all their undertakings. Besides other social service activities the church, with funds donated by Helpage Int. through helping S.L. substantial monthly assistance to 34 elders chosen irrespective of creed.
The church has produced six priests viz. Revd J. P. De Silva (the first Deacon) Rev. Celestine Fernando (the first priest) Rev. Patrick Fernando, Archdeacon of Galle, Revs Jayasiri Peiris, Ranjith Jayaweera and Sri Sara Mohotti. The Revs M. G. F. Peiris, D. P. J. de Silva and P. L. Pereira have studied in the church Sunday School for short periods while Revd. H. D. Pereira was a teacher in the Sunday school at one time. Like Revd. Celestine Fernando and Ven. Patrick Fernando, Revd. Sunil Ferdinando, whose grandfather was a member of the first choir of St. Matthias is also a descendent of Merennage Andris Fernando builder of the first church in 1815.
The celebration of the 125th Anniversary will commence on 17th February with a service of Thanksgiving especially for past benefactors and worshippers. On 18th the Sunday school Festival and Prize Giving will take place with the Bishop of Kurunegala and Chief Guest. From 19th to 22nd February Rt. Revd. Philip Le Feburve Bishop of the Diocese of St. Mark the Evangelist, Natal, South Africa will conduct a parish mission. On the 24th St. Matthias Day a large number from other parishes in the Diocese are expected to join the local congregation in a service of Holy Communion presided over by the Bishop of Colombo. Several other events will also form part of the celebrations. A stained glass window gifted by an ananymous donor will be unveiled on the 17th.
A large number of persons have contributed lavishly and ungrudgingly of their time, talent and substance to enrich the church. Even though it is invidious to mention names, perforce, I have to remember at least a few. The first persons to come to mind are Peter C. Fernando and his wife Annie whose mertorious services are commemorated in a mural tablet in the northern transept.
The church owes its cemetery to the initiative and energy of Vincent P Fernando; Fred Fernando was Bishops warden and Treasurer for seventeen years and Peoples warden for a number of years. Both of them served the church in many capacities. Members of the de Soysa family, V. Jacob de Mel, Frank J M de Mel, B. W. Fernando and Sam Salgado are among numerous benefactors. In our country where Christian ministers of state are a rare breed, Sam P. C. Fernando was the Minister of Justice in Madam Sirimavo Bandaranaikes cabinet. There are many more who deserve mention but space forbids it. There is also a larger number who though not holding any office, have served the church with the utmost fervour. Our gratitude is due to all these gracious men and women.
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