Wednesday, 4 December 2002  
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Government - Gazette

Sunday Observer

Budusarana On-line Edition

Hundred and twenty fifth anniversary : St. James Church, Mutwal

by Rev. D E G Arulanantham, Incumbent - St. James Church, Mutwal.

The British when they took control of Sri Lanka in 1800 commenced work in the Island in propagating the Gospel message. There was a society which helped them in this great task, viz. the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel. The Diocese of Colombo was under the Diocese of Madras at this time. Bishop James Chapman was the first Bishop of the Diocese of Colombo when it was constituted in 1845.

The Bishop was much concerned about the need of the church for spiritual reinforcement at this time. He wrote to the S.P.G. to help him in his missionary efforts in building churches and providing clergymen for them. The S.P.G. responded to this appeal by finding funds for the construction of churches and missionary stations in the Island. It was in 1851 that the S.P.G. acquired a 9-acre block of land in Mutwal and built the St. Thomas' College.


In the same year, viz. 1851 Queen Victoria donated a 1-acre of crown land in Mutwal in which the St. James' Church stands today. In 1853 the Bishop writes of being in frequent communication with a Buddhist priest from Kotanchina, describing him as a very learned man in language and science. After much instructions and communications the Bishop mentions of the baptism of this man by the name of James and of his being appointed a lay reader (very probably for the congregation in Kotahena).

The foundation stone for the building of the St. James' Church was laid by the next Bishop of Colombo. Rt. Rev. Claughton on 21st December 1868.

The consecration of the newly built Church took place on 2nd December 1877, which being Advent Sunday. It was the first undertaking of the Bishop Rt. Rev. R. S. Copleston who assumed duties in 1875 and went on till 1902 when he was elevated to the office of the Metropolitan and left for Calcutta.


The church continued to serve the Tamil community who were beginning to take residence in Kotahena. Many of them came from India to work in the expanding commercial undertakings in Colombo, including the harbour. During this period till 1917 the Rev. Christian David, Colonial Chaplain functioned as Hony. Priest-in-Charge ably assisted by Lay Readers, one of whom was Mr. C. H. Christie David.

Records reveal that on 22nd February 1899 a part of the land was sold to the Good Shepherd Convent with the sanction of the Governor General. The Church celebrated its silver jubilee in 1902 and voluntary priests and Lay Readers continued to minister to the congregation. One of the Catechists who served the Church during this period was P. Jebamony (the father of Canon S. M. J. Jebamony). The Church celebrated its golden jubilee in 1927. The Vicar of the Cathedral Church, Mutwal functioned as the Vicar of St. James' Church, Kotahena together with the Cathedral Tamil Church, Madampitiya.

From 1923 Rev. G. E. H. Arndt, Vicar of the Cathedral Church in Mutwal volunteered to be the Vicar of the Church and he was assisted by Rev. R. K. Abraham, Rev. S. S. Richards and Rev. Paul David.

With the war breaking up and the transfer of Rev. Arndt and the retirement of P. Jebamony the Catechist, the Church appeared a little shaky. But by 1940 the Rev. Derek Karunaratne who was appointed the Vicar of the Cathedral Church took charge of St. James' Church together with Cathedral Tamil Church, Madampitiya.

He was ably assisted by the Revs. S. Pitchaimuthu, A. R. E. Rajaratnam, P. V. Coilpillai, W. J. N. Snell, W. R. Coomaraswamy, A. E. K. Lewis, A. J.C. Selvaratnam and E. J. Gnanapragasam.

On November 17, 1951 a memorandum was submitted to the Bishop of Colombo, Rt. Rev. Archibald Rollo Graham Campbell by the Church wardens on the need for a full-time Tamil Priest's services for the Church. On 11th January 1954 an application was submitted to the Diocese of Colombo by the Lay Officers: M/s B. R. Joseph, J. A. Welcome, S. P. Edward and P. Asirwatham.

On July 31, 1962 in accordance with Chapter IX of the Constitution of the Diocesan Council a Sub-Committee was appointed with the Bishop as Chairman, for the purpose of forming a new parish. The sub-committee invited the Rev. Derek Karunaratne and the Rev. P. Coilpillai and two specially elected lay representatives J. A. Welcome and S. P. Edward to appear before them. These representatives stated a case, duly supported by a list signed by more than one third of the enrolled members of the parish expressing their desire for the change.


On October 24, 1962 on behalf of the standing committee the Bishop reported to the Diocesan Council that the sub committee had reached a decision in favour of the formation of St. James' Church and Madampitiya Tamil Church into an independent Parishes. The Service of Institution and induction of Rev. P. V. Coilpillai as Vicar took place on Saturday the 6th of June 1964 at 4 p.m. Since then the Church of St. James' Kotahena and St. Peter's, Madampitiya have had one priest as Vicar. A list of the clergy who served in this church is given elsewhere.

An extensive repair to the church was done in the year 2000 under the Incumbency of Rev. E. Z. Jeyaraj. The church was completely and overlaid with wall tiles and floor tiles. The three altar windows were also fitted with stained glass windows.

A service of re-dedication was held on 7th May 2000 at which Bishop Swithin Fernando officiated. The Mission House, which had been unoccupied since 1993, was rebuilt and dedicated by the Ven. Archdeacon of Colombo Ven. Godwin Weerasuriya on 9th March 2002. The two shops belonging to the Parish were also renovated and rebuilt and the church derives a monthly income from them.

House of prayer

The present Priest-in-Charge Rev. Godwin Arulanantham who assumed duties for the second time after 12 years is instrumental in building up the unity and fellowship amongst the parishioners.

The Church has a growing congregation and parishioners come from distant places such as Peliyagoda and Sedawatte for the Sunday Services. A time of prayer and Bible study is held on every Wednesday evenings.

It is our prayers and hope that the vision of the early builders will be fulfilled through the several ministries of this Church. In a crowded town of Kotahena, the Church of St. James' stands as a monument to the glory of God fighting the forces of evil. This House of Prayer shall continue to be a temple of God for many generations to come.


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