Tangalla Methodist Church

By S. H. Mithrapala

Tangalla Methodist Church turned hundred years on January 26, 2002. Fiftieth anniversary of the church had been commemorated on November 30, 1952 on a grand scale. Some important facts of the history of this institution are available in the library of the Colombo Methodist headquarters. The Golden Jubilee Souvenir released on November 30, 1952 shed more light into the inception and the gradual development that have taken place of this church.

An extract from the Ceylon Methodist Church record of December 1902 states as follows.

"Our desire by the help of God is, to build up an ideal Methodist Church in Tangalla and to this end, we request all who may happen to read this article to make special mention of our work at the throne of grace.

We are now building a beautiful and commodious church. We started without a cent in hand, but with prayer as did the late George Muller of Bristol and we know that our trust in God for the necessary funds will be honoured."

The above report though un-signed is believed to be by Rev. Edward Smith and in another note he says:

"Tangalla was occupied as a Methodist circuit in January 1901, Mr. F. B. P. Jayawardana being there as Evangelist."

Letters sent by former Ministers of the Church for the Souvenir of the Golden Jubilee speak volumes about this ancient church. Rev. R. C. Oliver stationed at Matara, had visited Tangalla frequently in 1899 to hold services in the home of Mr. and Mrs. Meurling.

Rev. C. Ganegoda in his letter had stated that he was appointed in 1901 as a catechist to work with Mr. E. H. Smith and had stated that after working for two years had moved to Hakmana where he had served for another two years.

In his letter he had stated "when we started the mission in Tangalla we had many friends to help us and encourage us in our new venture. I still remember some of those who took a great interest in Tangalla itself. Mr. L. G. Ponlier, Proctor, Mrs. La Brooy, Proctor Walter Jayawickreme, the De Zylvas and many others including some leading Buddhists. The Sunday services was first held in a rented house and afterwards in a cadjan shed. Mr. Smith also started an English school with a boarding establishment."

According to the available records Rev. C. H. S. Ward had succeeded Mr. Smith, who worked for two years.

Rev. M. A. Stamlo had served twice as the Minister of Tangalla Methodist church - 1911 to 1917 and again from 1928 to 1932. According to the letter of Rev. Stambo, Rev. E. Hardy Scott had worked along with him in Tangalla.

Subsequently, Rev. John Eagle who succeeded Rev. Scott who had resided in Matara had attended to the missionary work in Tangalla upto 1951.

Schools run by the Methodist church

Missionaries who worked in Tangalla area had contributed a lot for the education of the children in the Matara and Hambantota districts as well. Schools had been established at Dikwella, Hakmana, Kahawatta close to Beliatta, Tangalla and Urugamuwa. With the nationalisation of schools under Mrs. Sirimavo Bandaranaike regime all these schools were brought under government control.

Aftermath of 1951

The missionary activities of the church had suffered a lot due to the non-availability of Ministers in charge. Rev. David Wilson, Rev. G. Manukulasuriya, Rev. Tattersole have performed as the Ministers of the church after 1954 and since 1962 retardation of the missionary work of Tangalla Methodist church had begun.

With the takeover of the schools, all the buildings that belonged to the church had been acquired by the government except the church building and the mission house.

By 1974, only one service had been performed on the first Sunday of each month and that also in collaboration with Lanka Sabha. By 1976 Rev. John Price who was in charge of Tangalla church had left for England and with that the Mission house too was sold out.

Darkest period

Tangalla Methodist church had been forgotten to such an extent that it was called "Abandoned church" (Paalu palliya) by the residents. By this time I see Nagasinghe who was appointed as an additional catechist had performed the services again.

Aftermath of 1993

With the approval of the Methodist Headquarters in Colombo Rev. Anura Perera of Matara a boys hostel affiliated to Tangalla Mission had been inaugurated. By 1999, the membership of the church had come down to the lowest in an unprecedented manner. Subsequently a Mission house has been built up and a dynamic young priest Rev. Nadeera Fernando has taken over the administration.

Rev. Nadeera Fernando who keeps cardinal relationship with Buddhist priests, Muslim brethren and all strata of society in the area was instrumental in providing drought relief to a number of villages in the entire Hambantota district in collaboration with Buddhist priests in the respective villages.