- St. Andrew’s Scots Kirk names Roshan Mendis as its first SL Locum Minister
By Naveed Rozais
The almost fairytale-looking church of St. Andrew’s Scots Kirk is one that draws attention even from non-Christians. When you understand that the church was founded by the Scots and hosted a largely Scottish congregation for much of its storied history, the castle-inspired facade starts to make a lot more sense.
Recently, for the first time, the congregation of St. Andrew’s Scots Kirk appointed a Sri Lankan to serve as Locum Minister, that is to say, the Minister that leads their congregation, physically and spiritually. All previous Locum Ministers have been Scots who visited Sri Lanka and made it their home in order to lead the St. Andrew’s flock.
The new Locum Minister, Roshan Mendis, is born and raised in Colombo (Dehiwela), and from the young age of 13, felt a deep calling to his faith, going on to pursue his theological education in Australia before being ordained in 1991.
Mendis served the Dutch Reformed Church as a Minister for 23 years, and has also been on the Board of Governors of Methodist College and the Colombo Theological College and the Executive Committee of the Evangelical Alliance of Sri Lanka and the National Christian Council.
In 2013, he resigned as a Minister to join his alma mater S. Thomas’ College, Mount Lavinia. In 2015, he was appointed as the Associate Chaplain of the school. During the past few years, Mendis has been helping St. Andrew’s Scots Kirk in the absence of a resident minister and in September 2022, Mendis was appointed the first Sri Lankan Locum Minister of St. Andrew’s Scots Kirk by the International Presbytery of the Church of Scotland and the Kirk Session of the church.
The Sunday Morning Brunch reached out to Mendis for a chat on what it means to be the first Sri Lankan to lead St. Andrew’s Scots Kirk and what hopes he has for his congregation.
Excerpts of the interview below:
How do you feel about being appointed the Locum Minister of St. Andrew’s Scots Kirk, Colombo, especially as the first Sri Lankan to be named so?
Initially, I must say that this appointment humbled me. It’s a great honour and a privilege to be appointed Locum Minister. There is a need in every congregation for there to be one person to whom they can go, in the event of needing spiritual advice or for their pastoral needs, and I am glad to be that person.
The original St. Andrew’s Scots Kirk began its services 180 years ago on 21 August 1842 at its original church on Prince Street, Fort. It was the first Presbyterian Church in Colombo. The current church at its location at 73, Galle Road, Colpetty was built by Scottish Architect Edward Skinner and began its services in 1906, under the ministry of the Rev. Alexander Dunn.
St. Andrew’s, from its inception, mainly ministered to the Scottish who were residents on our island; businessmen, tea planters, civil service, armed forces, etc. In the late 1960s, Chaplain Rev. Andrew Baillie, who served the church for over 20 years, was instrumental in opening the doors of the church to all Sri Lankans. This change was the first in a series of moves that ensured the evolution of St. Andrew’s. In 2007, St. Andrew’s Scots Kirk became a full member of the Presbytery of Europe (now known as the International Presbytery) and of the Church of Scotland, and an associate member of the local Presbytery of Lanka.
While the number of Scottish congregation members had declined by this time, the congregation at St. Andrew’s was still mostly foreign nationals. In 2013, for the first time in its history, St. Andrew’s had a Nominating Committee of 13 members drawn from the congregation, with the responsibility to select and recommend a sole nominee to become their next minister.
In the past year or two, due to the unsettled nature of the country’s situation and post-Covid, the congregation shifted to a mostly Sri Lankan one, with only a handful of foreign members remaining. With the changing demographic, the Nominating Committee looked to find a suitable Sri Lankan candidate to minister at St. Andrew’s and that’s how I received my appointment.
A close bond needs to be established between the congregation and the parish, and as the new Minister, I am here by God’s grace to fill the void and try my best to attend to the needs of the congregation.
What is your vision for St. Andrew’s Scots Kirk?
The Lord has laid on my heart certain ideas, which I hope to implement gradually. Initially, in the first year, I intend to meet up with every member of our congregation and get to know them better. I intend to observe the needs of St. Andrew’s and then bring in changes gradually, after consulting the congregation and the local Kirk Session, the governing body of our Church.
Thank God, St. Andrew’s has a very strong Social Ministry, with Mission Projects in many areas benefiting the poor and the needy, like Helping Hands where about 25 families have been supported for many years, the Thursday Lunch for the Needy which feeds about 150 recipients every week, along with the work being done at Ward 8 of the Mulleriyawa Hospital and the Netherlee Cottage, which serves as a safe haven for ladies who are discharged from the Mulleriyawa Hospital.
On new initiatives, I plan to improve the Spiritual Ministry in the Church firstly by introducing a regular Bible study, and I am glad to announce that Dr. Dhanan Senathirajah has already volunteered to conduct Bible study classes from next year. Secondly, I am keen to start the ‘Alpha Course,’ an interactive video-based Bible study, catering to the places of work in Colpetty and the surrounding areas.
Thirdly, St. Andrew’s is open from morning till evening, so I intend to spend time in the morning where those who are in need of prayer could meet with me, and others who want to pray in silence would also be welcome, as this is already a regular practice. Fourthly, I would like to introduce a lunchtime 10 to 15-minute service catering to the office staff in the surrounding area.
St. Andrew’s is known as the church for weddings, like the Biblical Church of Cana where it is recorded that Jesus turned water into wine. So as my fifth initiative I would like to make use of my degree in Family and Ministry, and have a family service once a month where the emphasis would be on strengthening the family to grow in these very trying times that we live in.
What do you find most rewarding on a personal level serving at St. Andrew’s?
I feel blessed to minister God’s word to our congregation and I feel rewarded when a sermon I deliver inspires the congregation. God told Abraham, “I will bless you and make you a blessing” and while I am blessed to be the Locum Minister at St. Andrew’s, I hope and pray that I will continue to be a blessing to others. When others are blessed, that will be my ultimate reward.