Leo Fonseka,courtesy of The Island, 15 August 2015,
The sacred celebration and the installation service of the 12th President of the Methodist Church Sri Lanka will take place on the 18th of August 2015. A large gathering including the Officials & Representatives of the Sri Lanka Government, other religious dignitaries , Heads of Foreign Missions, Heads of churches in Sri Lanka & overseas , Roman Catholic Church and other Christian denominations will grace this occasion. The Methodist Church Sri Lanka has been in existence in Sri Lanka for the past 201 years and has contributed immensely to the country’s religious, spiritual, educational and social advancement. It‘s members come from all over the island and spread from Dondara to Point Pedro.
Rev Asiri P. Perera who hails from Moratuwa is the younger son of a former Methodist Minister late Rev. Theodore H. Perera and Mrs. Delicia Perera. Rev Theodore pioneered the Ministry of Healing in the Methodist Church Sri Lanka.
Rev. Asiri had his early education at Richmond College, Galle from 1963 to 1967 and thereafter at Carey College, Colombo from 1968 to 1969 and 1971 to 1975. In 1970 He studied at the Seeduwa Methodist School. He received his calling to the ministry while he was a pre GCE O’ Level student at Carey College. The encouragement and the opportunities to serve given by his late parents, his College Principal the late Rev. Dr. W. G. Wickremasinghe, enabled him to test his calling & make a firm commitment to serve God. Rev. Asiri entered the Theological College of Lanka, Pilimatalawa in 1977 and obtained his Bachelor of Theology degree from Serampore University, India in 1981. He joined the fulltime Methodist Ministry in 1981 and was later ordained in 1984.
Rev. Asiri got married in 1981 to Sharmila, also a Methodist hailing from Panadura. She is the younger daughter of Mr. Ralph and Mrs. Srima Fernando who have contributed and served the Methodist Church in various capacities.
Together, Rev Asiri and Mrs. Sharmila Perera started off their ministry from Dalupoth, Negombo in 1981. They have been blessed with two children Suhadhini (daughter, married to Robert Dennett in UK) and Shameendra (Son ). Rev Asiri and Sharmila have also been blessed with a little grand Son, Ethan and a grand daughter, baby Ellie.
Rev. Asiri entered the Theological College of Lanka, Pilimatalawa in 1977 & obtained his Bachelor of Theology degree from Serampore University, India in 1981. He joined the fulltime Methodist Ministry in 1981 and was ordained in 1984. He had his post graduate education on Clinical Pastoral Education & Counselling at the Auckland Public Hospital in New Zealand and the Royal North Shore Hospital of Sydney, Australia, which qualified him to obtain membership in the College of Clinical Pastoral Education, New South Wales, Australia. Rev. Asiri served in Dalupotha, Kandy, Nugegoda, Kollupitiya, Mt. Lavinia, Wellawatte, & Colombo North Methodist Churches. He also served for ten years in full time Healing Ministry at Dev Suwa Sevawa, Moratuwa involving himself in a ministry of Counselling & prayer for the sick in Body, Mind & Spirit. He was also invited by the Colombo Theological Seminary to be a part time teacher on Counselling & Conflict Resolution. Rev. Asiri has attended & addressed various local & international forums & Conferences. Before his election to this hallowed position of the Chief Servant of God in the church, he had been the Chairman of the Central District Synod, one of three synods that oversee the three administrative clusters of Methodist Circuits in Sri Lanka.
The Church he heads; 2015 marks the 201st year of the arrival of Methodism to Sri Lanka. On 29 June 1814, the two ships that carried five British missionaries arrived in Galle and Weligama bringing Methodism to the island. The Godly person chiefly responsible for establishing Methodism in Sri Lanka was Rev. Dr. Thomas Coke, a Welshman and an Oxford alumnus in Civil Law. Before leaving the British shores for Sri Lanka, he said: “I am now dead to Europe and alive to India. God, Himself has said to me, ‘Go to Ceylon’. I am fully convinced of the will of God.” Dr. Coke died of old age in the mid seas a few days before the ships arrived in Sri Lanka.
Social Responsibility: The lightning speed at which they went about discharging their missionary duties was unprecedented in contemporary church history. It is an important lesson to the modern day missionaries, priests and preachers anywhere in the world. Within less than a month of arrival, the first Wesleyan school in the country was established in Galle by the Rev. Benjamin Clough on 25 July 1814. Later, the venue was shifted to a nearby Mount Seymour and came to be known as Richmond College. Rev. William Ault who went to Batticaloa started the Methodist Central College there on 29th August 1814. In 1816, William Martin Harvard built The first historic Methodist Church in Asia opposite the Colombo District Secretariat in Dam Street. Today, it stands sentinel for sustainable Methodism.
The church’s social responsibility action spread through a network of Sunday Schools providing religious instruction, numerous Higher Secondary Schools including the Wesley College and Methodist College in Colombo, the first boarding and girls school in Asia, the Newtead College in Negombo, Day Care Centres and Pre-Schools, Elders Homes, Vocational Training Centers, and a hospital in Puttur, Jaffna.
The Pioneering Spirit: The Methodist Church had played a key role in nurturing the indigenous literature in the island. There are many firsts crediting the church. It can rightly claim to be the harbinger of modern school tradition to Sri Lanka, having established the first such school in Galle, the Richmond College in 1814. The first ever Girls High School and the first ever Boarding School of Asia was established in Sri Lanka by the Methodist missionaries. That is Newstead College, Negombo. Also, these missionaries produced the first-ever Sinhala-English and English-Sinhala dictionaries in 1821 by Rev. Benjamin Clough, a renowned Methodist missionary.
The Methodists introduced the first privately-owned printing press – the Wesley Press – in the country within months of their arrival in 1814.
The Methodist Church has also taken the lead in promoting temperance. They were pioneering leaders of the Sri Lanka Temperance Movement alongside the Buddhist clergy.
Contribution to Formal Education in Sri Lanka: The Methodist Church of Sri Lanka has made a yeoman service to public education by establishing a chain of 177 schools in the coastal belt of the country stretching from Tangalle to Jaffna. They included Wesley and Methodist in Colombo; Richmond & Rippon in Galle; Newstead in Negombo; Kingswood in Kandy; Methodist Central Colleges in Jaffna and Batticaloa.
These schools produced great national leaders of the ilk of Sir Oliver Goonatileke, the first Ceylonese Governor General, C.W.W. Kannangara, the Father of Free Education, Mahinda and Chamal Rajapaksha Rajapaksha, the former President and Speaker of Parliament, respectively.
Interestingly, these schools also produced prominent Buddhist Revivalists of the calibre of P. de S. Kularatna, L. H. Meththananda, Dr. A.P. de Soysa and T. U. de Silva, and academics of international fame such as Prof. E. R. Sarachchandra. E. F. Ludowyke and Vimala de Silva.
Contribution to Sri Lankan Literature: It was Methodist Missionaries who introduced first privately owned platen printing to this country in 1814. The Wesley Press was installed in Dam Street Wesleyan premises, Colombo. The Wesley Press was responsible for printing dictionaries, catechism books, literary works and primary readers for general use. Since 1873 it had also printed a monthly Sinhala journal called ‘Sathyalankaraya’.
Rev. Peter Percival translated the Holy Bible into Tamil. In 1845, the church established the first ever Teacher Training Colleges in the country including one in Batticaloa for the Tamil teachers. Another first was in the commissioning of the services of a team of highly sought-after Mathematics Wranglers from England to teach in the schools here. Revds. Thomas Moscrop, W. T. Garrett, Wilkes, and later Rev Darrel and Small were highly qualified mathematicians. The first novel in sinhala, “Meena” too was a contribution by a revered Methodist priest – Rev. Simon de Silva followed by another novel titled “Kalakanni Pawla saha Wasanawantha Pawla” (The Wretched family and the Fortunate Family).
Rev. Benjamin Clough wrote and published “A English -Singhalese Dictionary in 1830, and “A Pali Grammar and Vocabulary” in 1824; also translated the Pali work “Kamawachan” under the name of “The Ritual of the Buddhist Priesthood,” which was printed by the Royal Asiatic Society. In 1821 he published an English – Sinhalese Dictionary extending to 628 pages 8 volumes, and containing about 25,000 words. Nine years afterwards the same indefatigable author published a Sinhalese – English Dictionary, extending to 852 pages and containing about 40,000 words. Such was the commitment of early Wesleyan missionaries to the nation’s languages and literature.
Contribution to National Peace and Justice: The Methodist Church’s contribution to building a just society has been one of deep affection to the unity of Sri Lanka society while upholding the democratic traditions and human dignity of all its people irrespective of race, religion or language. The Church boldly upheld the view that every Sri Lanka must be accorded an equal opportunity to enjoy all human rights equally. Its work in the North and East during the ethnic conflagration was one of integrity and fair-play. It opposed terrorism and upheld the territorial integrity of the nation.That’s why the Mahabodi Society too was joined hands with the Methodist Church in its humanitarian services among the displaced Tamils of those areas during natural and political calamities there.