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A testament of faith: The Christian Reformed Church celebrates 375 years

Comments / {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}} Views / Saturday, 30 September 2017 00:00

The Christian Reformed Church in Sri Lanka, formerly known as the Dutch Reformed Church, celebrates 375 years on 6 October.A trilingual service of thanksgiving to celebrate this milestone is planned at the Christian Reformed Church in Galle on 5 October.

This anniversary is a testament to the faith of generations of ministers, ministry workers, evangelists and the community of believers in Sri Lanka who stayed true to the teachings of the reformed faith, continuing to teach Biblically-sound doctrine and espousing the catechism of faith.

The Church works and ministers to people in all three languages and has worship services in multiple locations across the country: in the Colombo District, worship services are held at the Christian Reformed Churches at Wolvendaal in Colombo 15, Regent Street near the General Hospital, Dehiwela, Kohuwela, Wellawatte, Bambalapitiya, Maligakande and Rukmalgama.

The Church buildings in Galle, Matara, Kalpitiya and the Wolvendaal Church in Colombo have all been declared as historical buildings with archaeological value and cultural significance.

The history of the Christian Reformed Church is intrinsically linked to period of Dutch colonisation in the country.

The first visit of Dutch sailors to Sri Lanka is recorded in 1600, but it would be another two years – 1602 – until the Treaty was signed with the King of Kandy, King Wimaladharmasuriya I, allowing the Dutch to build fortresses along the coast.

It would be yet another 40 years before the official ministry of the Dutch Reformed Church began on October 6, 1642 in the Fort of Galle. That same year, the Reformed faith of the Dutch colonists was established as the official religion of the colony, giving the church both stature and resources to expand.

As the Dutch expanded their governance across the coastline of Sri Lanka, from Galle to Jaffna, through Trincomalee and around to Matara, the Reformed faith went with them. 

In the early years, the Dutch Reformed Church ministry, including worship services, was carried out in Dutch government buildings, homes and temporary buildings.

The first Dutch-erected church buildings began to appear in 1706 with the building of the church in Jaffna, known as the Kruys Kerk (Cross Church) because it was built in the design of a Greek Cross - a pattern followed in the design of the Wolvendaal and Galle churches later on. This building located within the Jaffna Fort was destroyed during the LTTE occupation of Jaffna. 

The next church building to be completed was in Matara, which remains standing today even after suffering considerable damage during the 2004 Tsunami. The most famous of all the DRC churches - the grand edifice in Galle - began construction only in 1752, and was completed in 1755. The majestic Wolvendaal Church was dedicated in 1767

The Dutch period of governance in Sri Lanka began to fade with the arrival of the British in 1795 and the island of Ceylon was ceded to the British in 1796. But the Dutch colonialists and their near 200-year governance of Sri Lanka left behind many lasting legacies.

The Roman-Dutch Law which continues to hold sway in Sri Lanka as the general law in the country, was introduced during the Dutch period of governance. Dutch architecture continues to be a striking influence in colonial buildings preserved from this time, some of the best examples of which are seen in the churches the Dutch built. 

The Dutch also influenced Sri Lanka’s language, cuisine, art, handicrafts and attire. The beautiful Dutch-influenced furniture of that period, especially those carved from ebony and calamander are some of the most prized furniture today – and some of the most beautiful examples are found in the Christian Reformed Churches in Wolvendaal and Galle.

Sri Lanka gained its first printing press thanks to the Dutch, when a press was set up in 1736 by the Governor of the time. The first Sinhala and Tamil language books to be printed in this press were the gospels of the Bible.

The church worked amongst the poor and the needy in the country, establishing orphanages, schools and the country’s first leprosy asylum in Wattala, among many other social projects and acts of service.

The work of that early church continues undiminished even today.

Renamed as the Christian Reformed Church in October 2007, the church continues to minister through 18 churches and three mission points across the island. The oldest mission station, located in Kahatagasdigiliya in the North Central Province, was established in 1919 and continues in its missions work today. 

Around 35 Ministers, pastors and full-time ministry and operational workers serve in the church today, carrying out missionary and evangelistic activities, serving the community through social programmes, such as English and computer classes, providing food and school supplies to children and responding to the needs of the communities in which they serve.


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