The Anglican Church Annual Diocesan Council: A Jaffna Perspective
Disruptions of the Mass by COVID
For some time now the obligatory Sunday Mass had been suspended because of COVID-19. Christians have been under some restrictions. First services were totally disallowed. Then, while those in Colombo were allowed services with 25 communicants, in Jaffna the PHIs restricted it to 5. Then two Sundays ago, at St. James’ Nallur, the Vicar, The Rev. Fr. Stephen Jebachelvan, said “Come what may, we will start with 5 communicants.” Hearing about it, last Sunday (6th) he had to hold two services. Next Sunday (13th) it is expected to be more to cater to the demand ignored by the Church.
Disruption of Council
While the regularity of the Mass is from the Bible, of lesser order is the Diocesan Constitution that demands that the annual conclave (the Diocesan Council) should be during July and October is a demand of the Diocesan Constitution. It was disturbed by the retirement of the former Bishop Dhilo Canagasabey. The election for his replacement was held on 15 Aug. although there was good reason for holding it earlier. DV, nothing will stop the new Bishop’s attending the prestigious diennial Lambeth Conference originally scheduled for 2018, and then 2020 but now postponed to 27th July – 8th August 2022.
Questions on Consecration
The Consecration and Enthronement of the Bishop-Elect, Rev. Fr. Dushantha Rodrigo, was delayed. The constitutional requirement that three “Bishops” should lay hands needs clarification. Only 2 Diocesan Bishops and other retired Bishops really laid hands. While a Bishop is always a Bishop even after retirement, the constitution defines Diocesan Bishops but not “Bishops.” The doubt could have been solved by inviting the Diocesan Bishop The Rev. Dr. Daniel Thiagarajah of Jaffna of the [Anglican] Church of South India, but that seems to have been avoided for political reasons. Instead there were diocesan bishops from abroad waving their hands on a computer screen via Zoom rather than laying on hands. The solution raises more question than it answered. We appear to have a new Bishop anyway, with the Archbishop of Canterbury signing the relevant instrument. In our “intellectual church,” these are not discussed.
Mass on Zoom
The Council meeting to be chaired by the new Bishop, now The Rt. Rev. Dushantha Rodrigo, did not have health authority permission because it involves about 300 delegates. So we had a meeting in 16 locations, going Rural Deanery by Rural Deanery with two venues for the larger ones. It will be on Zoom they announced making it unclear if the Bishop crossing the host and wine in Colombo will invoke the presence of Christ in the elements in Jaffna. In the end it was separate masses, each presided by a priest.
Jaffna Rural Deanery
Unlike the normal 3-day conclave, 11 December’s, was for a day only. Each Rural Deanery was allowed only 2 speakers on resolutions. This time there is only one resolution on giving us an opportunity to revise our constitution. I had been nominated by the Jaffna Rural Deanery to summarize our discussions on Friday 4th. Here is my prepared text for my allotted 5 minutes.
Text of Speech
May it please Your Lordship: I speak on behalf of the Jaffna Deanery to summarise our meeting last Friday on the Resolutions by Fathers Selvan and Sathivel.
The “Aye” Argument
Already dealt with by the proposer, their argument is that we have already seen problems in the constitution of Dec. 2007and call for making it current. It is only in English and awaits translation. I say this lapse is because of lack of capacity in the Church in translation. Most of us cannot understand its archaic English and will need translations if we really want a discussion beyond the minority English-speakers. Principally three faults are alleged:
1. In the election of bishop, the process is alleged to be a disgrace. Until the day of election we pretend we do not know who the candidates are and as a result allowed one of them to send out letters of invitation for the election. But there was a lot of campaigning. This slanted the election. The senior-most archdeacon did not chair as constitutionally required. The system allowed only one day for nomination, debate, and voting. The proposers want a simple majority to determine who is elected.
2. The role of clergy in Christ-centered Service needs to be investigated and brought into the constitution with mandates. The rules for the Sabbath and lay-workers must be adequately addressed.
3. A periodic review of the constitution is not provided for. A committee should be appointed and mandated to perform this review, and that review should be brought to the Diocesan Council in 2022.
The “Nay” Argument
The “Nay” argument is that the mature American constitution, ratified in June 1788, has only seen 27 amendments over its 232 years. Sri Lanka’s constitution, however, from 1978, has had 20 amendments in its 42 years. It is said to be a periodical. I think as a people we do not keep to our work commitments and rush changes. That is why we cannot get things right at one go. We will fix one problem and create another. Assignments of such importance must go to the competent and not be used to give exposure to favorites.
The Church and the Rule of Law
Why a revision when we do not read our constitution and stray often from it? Consider:
1. Two and half years ago, we passed a resolution on the Tamil eucharistic liturgy. It called for an immediate stop to praying to God as “God without holiness.” We continue to do that even though the then Bishop assented to the resolution. We Tamils still have a liturgy where god is not almighty, and Christ is not “The Most High in the Glory of God the Father.” We have nine commandments not ten. And most of us do not even notice this. The constitution requires the implementation of that near-unanimous resolution. But it has not been done. It is a most severe indictment on the intellectual capacity of our “intellectual church” that we cannot implement obvious mistakes even when they are spoon-fed in writing. Finish what is on our plate before taking on new projects. Picking favorites ignoring capacity is what led to a prayerbook with spelling, grammar and thought mistakes. The CMS Board for Schools, last I looked, had non-degreed housewives and a chairman calling himself doctor with an honourary degree. The advertisement for Principal of CMS St. John’s College had 7 grammar mistakes. No wonder our schools are failing. Tap the national university graduates among clergy for cerebral tasks, not socialites.
2. I am a dual US-Sri Lanka citizen. The Sri Lankan constitution never precluded my serving on the Election Commission. An archdeacon tweeted on twitter like Donald Trump that I was unlawfully functioning on the Election Commission. It hurt me professionally. So, I filed a written complaint with the then Bishop. No response as mandated by the Constitution.
3. We had a Registrar, Chanaka de Silva, PC, who would unlawfully rule any proposed resolution he did not like as unlawful. He killed a proposed resolution against a new diocese ruling that it “is detrimental to the fellowship and unity of the body of Christ.” He left, thankfully, on the very day Your Lordship was consecrated.
4. No one received notice for this meeting in time to meet the constitutional 60 days for processing our resolutions by the Church. I am surprised that this resolution somehow was “in time” to be on the agenda. All of us need equal treatment.
So why revise a constitution that is not consulted and is only a tool to suppress dissent and to promote favorites who can commit any sin and rise in the church without constitutionally required disciplinary action? Do we have the capacity to word-craft and make quality changes? Obviously, we lacked that capacity in 2007 for us to need changes so soon. See what has happened to our orphaned Tamil Liturgy!
Allowing our constitution to become a periodical will lead to meddling with our faith. Remember, one of our diocesan bishops wished a dead Buddhist monk in The Ceylon Churchman as follows: “May he attain Nibbana.” Obviously that Bishop did not believe in the Christian resurrection if he meant the best blessing upon that monk’s soul. What will people without faith do to our faith if allowed to rewrite our constitution?
According to a 2017 PEW survey on Social Attitudes of Christians, 60% accept some New Age beliefs including 47% of Evangelical Protestants and 70% of Roman Catholics. Recall St. Matthew 7: 22ff about those of us who will cry Lord, Lord on that day and our Lord will respond “I never knew you; depart from me, you evildoers,” That is, we may be priests and church-goers but our faith? Is faith a factor in our appointments?
Trump and the Evangelical Conscience
Today Donald Trump inspires Christians in America’s Bible belt. But according to the book The Scandal of the Evangelical Conscience, the morality of the Bible is highly compromised even among ultra-conservative Christians. For example, Southern Baptists (of whom 85% say the Bible should be taken literally, and stress evangelization and missionary work) show the highest sexual disobedience. According to census data. Americans living together out of wedlock jumped from 1990 to now by 72%, but in the Bible Belt in Oklahoma it was 97%, in Arkansas 125%, and in Tennessee 123%. The divorce rate there is “roughly 50% above the national average.” No wonder they vote for Trump!
The Jesus People
Research, based on a Time 1971 cover story and a University of Milwaukee thesis, shows that para-churches like Campus Crusade for Christ, Inter-Varsity Fellowship, and Youth for Christ have had their origins in the hippie movement in America (in Mill Valley Baptist Church behind my daughter’s house in Oakland, CA). They are now mainstreamed in our high Committees (like the Jesus People and Born-Agains who joined mainline churches in America) and will soon author our faith and formularies as they already are.
“What is the point?,” some of you may ask. It is this. In these matters we are just a generation behind the West. These eccentric things from the hippies are surely coming to us. We already have bishops believing in nirvana. A former Roman Catholic priest is now singing Hare Krishna sons at Christ Church Dehiwela. Priests stealing, and into adultery are rising in the church hierarchy. These are the priests who speak English and will lead constitutional revisions. Would they tinker with our constitution and incorporate their hippie and multi-god faith and multi-partner lifestyles into our faith and formularies? It has already happened with dethroning “Almighty God” and refusing to correct it.
I am not against this resolution. I am only afraid of the damage it can do, if we do not first consider competence and faith in our appointments. Till then, any constitutional changes would be disconcerting to the faithful.
Thank you, My Lord.
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