by Tamil Christian Congregation of Western Australia
In 1983, following the ethnic disturbances, a significant number of Tamil Christians from Sri Lanka migrated to Australia and many chose to settle in Perth.Around this time some Tamil Christians from Malaysia and South India also arrived in Perth.
With this increase in numbers of Tamil Christians in Perth, some members of the Tamil Christian Community, especially the Sinnadurai and Selvanayagam families, promoted the idea of a Tamil community function to celebrate Christmas. An evening of Carols organised under the auspices of the Tamil Association of WA, was held at the Curtain University Amphitheatre in December 1985.
Many Christian and Hindu families assisted in making this celebration a success and thus laying the foundation for the Congregation as we see it today. We nostalgically refer to this celebration of Christmas as our “First Noel”.
Following the initial gathering at Christmas in 1985, the need for regular Tamil worship services for the new migrants was identified. Such a service was considered necessary to provide a suitable environment for new Christian migrants to worship in their linguistic and cultural environment. A worship group was formed through the efforts of a small group of Tamil Christians led by Stanley Sinnadurai. Rev Desmond Fielding, who was the then minister at the Osborne Park Uniting Church, assisted in inaugurating this Tamil Christian Worship Group. The inaugural worship service was held on Sunday, 7th September 1986 at 4 pm at the Uniting Church, Osborne Park.
The Worship Group was functioning under the auspices of the Tamil Association of WA until 1990. The growth in our Worship Group made us feel that we had the necessary resources to function as an independent body. Accordingly, on 3rd March 1991, the Worship Group decided to incorporate the Congregation as the Tamil Christian Congregation of Western Australia Inc. under the Associations and Incorporations Act.
Our sincere thanks are due to our senior members for their foresight in identifying the need for our existence, and to the Tamil Association of WA for initially sponsoring us and for their on-going support in the early years of our existence.
OUR WORSHIP SERVICES
Monthly Worship services – From that spring day in September 1986, the Group has held regular worship services on the first Sunday of each month. The monthly service was the main activity of the Worship Group. In the initial stages, these regular worship services had an average attendance of 30 to 40 persons (including many Hindu families). The numbers have gradually increased and at present over fifty families are members of our Congregation.
In the first two years, the worship services were mainly conducted by bible college students Pastor Amos and his wife Mano Tissaratchi and by Brother Selvanayagm who had migrated from Sri Lanka. When Pastor Amos and his wife returned to Sri Lanka in 1988, we did not have a regular minister or pastor. The senior members of the Congregation thereafter took on the responsibility of leading worship at our monthly services. The worship leaders were assisted by other members of the Congregation on the basis of a roster of duties developed at the beginning of each year. On occasions visiting ministers assisted the worship leaders. Holy Communion was served at least twice a year.
From 2008, a special segment of Songs of Praise was introduced at the beginning of the services where the Youth Band of the Congregation led the singing of Tamil and English choruses and songs. The Band is trained by members of the Congregation.
We gratefully acknowledge and thank the following ministers who provided assistance to the Congregation at our monthly services by preaching and on occasions serving Holy Communion.
• Rev Desmond Fielding
• Rev Chandran Iswariah
• Rev Sathy Anthony
• Rev Solomon Gokavi
• Rev Kanishka Raffael
• Rev Kenneth Chellapah
• Pastor Neil Moore
• Pastor Colin Meadows
• Pastor Robin John
Rev Fielding solemnised two weddings under the auspices of the Congregation and also conducted a baptism. Rev Anthony conducted the dedication of a member’s infant child.
Sunday School – Activities for the children of members during service times were introduced from the early stages of our existence as a Worship Group. Initially, they were engaged in supervised games. With the numbers of the children increasing, formal Sunday school classes were introduced for the different age groups. Sunday School Co-ordinators, assisted by other members of the Congregation, prepared the Sunday school lessons, obtained the required literature and teaching aids and conducted these classes
The Sunday school teachers performed a valuable service by improving the children’s knowledge of the Bible and developing their musical skills, especially in singing Christian Tamil songs.
Ladies Services – A Ladies Service was introduced in September 1995. It became a tradition thereafter, for this service to be held in October each year. The services were conducted entirely by the ladies of the Congregation who often delivered the messages.
This was a significant development as it provided an opportunity for the ladies of the Congregation to make a special contribution to the spiritual life of the Congregation.
Youth Services and Activities– Over the years, the numbers of youth in the Congregation increased and special youth services were introduced from the mid nineties. The services in August were designated as Youth Services. These services were conducted by the youth who often delivered the messages under the guidance of a youth co-ordinator. The talent, enthusiasm and innovative ideas they bring to these services are a source of great encouragement to the Congregation.
Most of these young adults had either migrated to Australia at a very young age or were born in Australia and had grown as part of the Congregation. Their participation at these services has enabled them to develop an identity as Tamils and more specifically as belonging to the Tamil Christian Congregation.
OUR SPECIAL SERVICES AND ACTIVITIES
Carol Services – “The First Noel” in 1985 provided the inspiration and the impetus to make a Christmas celebration an annual event. Many members of the Tamil population in Perth, including non-Christians, felt the need for a regular Christmas function. The first Carol Service was organised by the Worship Group at the Bentley Hall in 1986. The Carol Services have since then become an important event in the Congregation’s annual calendar. It is a public function with special songs and musical items to capture the spirit and meaning of Christmas.
A choir was formed for the first Carol Service in 1986 and has continued to be an important part of the Carol Services. The Choristers were trained by talented members of the Congregation and held regular practices in preparation for the Carol Services. The services included traditional carols, special Tamil and English carols sung by the choir, and musical items by the youth and children. A Christmas message by guest speakers became a regular part of these Carol Services.
Tamil non-Christians in Perth were invited to our Carol Services and many regularly attended them.
An elaborate fellowship tea organised by the ladies of the Congregation followed these services.
Children’s Carol Services -. A Children’s Carol Service was organised for the first time in 1988 at the Osborne Park Church. This annual event was later moved to the Maylands Uniting Church to accommodate the increase in the numbers attending the services.
The Children’s Carol Services provided an opportunity for our young members to present their Christian development and talent to a wider audience. The Sunday School Coordinators assisted by other members of the Congregation, trained the children to present special musical items and nativity plays. Speakers were invited to deliver a Christmas message to the children.
At the conclusion of the services there was a visit by Santa and the distribution of gifts to member’s children. Santa’s visit was the highlight of the evening’s proceedings which concluded with tea and refreshments.
To foster the spirit of giving, the children were encouraged to bring gifts of clothing and non-perishable food items to be distributed to the needy. In 1993, a group of indigenous children from the Manguri community were invited to participate in the service to create awareness among the Congregation’s children of the existence of the indigenous people of Australia.
Watch Night Services – The tradition of a watch night service to farewell the old year and herald the new had virtually died in Australia. However, those coming from the South Asian region were strong in this tradition and therefore it was decided to conduct watch night services. The first of these services was held on the 31st of December 1989. It has since become a regular annual event.
Initially, we followed the traditional form of the services held in Sri Lanka where the worship was preceded by musical items provided by various families of the Congregation. Formal worship commenced around 11 pm. Over time, the scope of the pre-service family time was expanded to include testimonies by members who witnessed to God’s blessings and interventions in their lives at various times during the year.
Very few churches in Perth conducted watch night services. The attendance at our services therefore included many non-member Tamil Christians and non-Tamil Christians from inter-state and overseas, holidaying in Perth.
The services were followed by the serving of “pongal” (pal-choru – sweet and savoury) and other traditional food normally associated with auspicious occasions.
Fasting and Prayer Meetings – The concerns of the Congregation’s members regarding the plight of their immediate families and the many difficulties experienced by the population in the North and East of Sri Lanka, led to the special gathering of our members on a Saturday morning, once each year, for a fasting and prayer meeting. The first such gathering was held in the early nineties. Thereafter it became an annual event in July of each year. Initially, the emphasis was on prayers for the peaceful resolution of the political and security situation in Sri Lanka. Later, other concerns regarding, wars, poverty and other human suffering in the world and in Australia were included.
Annual Camps – A weekend camp to encourage fellowship, and for time to be spent on bible studies and discussions for the spiritual growth of the Congregation was considered a good idea. The first camp for members was held at the Christian Youth Camp Centre in Lake Cooloongup in Baldivis in February 1996. Since then, Annual Camps in some form have been conducted regularly. The camps usually commenced on a Friday evening and concluded on the Sunday afternoon. The camps provided an opportunity for healthy discussion and reflection on various issues relating to Christian theology and living.
They were well attended and in the later years attendance at these camps ranged from 60 to 80 including children. Leaders involved in Youth Ministry, were invited to arrange special programmes for children and other young members of the Congregation attending the camp. The camps were also a time for fun and fellowship with bible quizzes, games, skits and competitions.
Anniversary Services and Celebrations – The anniversary of the formation of the Congregation is celebrated in September each year. This service was a special event to give thanks for God’s guidance in our ministry and the growth of our Congregation and is celebrated with Holy Communion being served.
Special celebrations were held to mark our first, tenth and twentieth anniversaries. The twentieth anniversary in 2006 was a significant milestone in the history and development of our Congregation and was celebrated on 2nd September with a special programme of songs, dances, musical items and a drama followed by an Anniversary Service on 3rd September 2006.
Visiting Missionaries and Support for Missions – The Congregation has hosted many visiting missionaries and evangelists, especially from the Indian sub-continent. The visitors either participated at our normal monthly services or spoke at special services conducted under the auspices of the Congregation. Missionaries who were hosted by the Congregation included Dr. Pushparajah, Rev Sadhu Chellappah, Rev Sam Jebathurai and Dr. Arul Anketell. As a congregation we have assisted those engaged in mission work in Sri Lanka and India and provided financial support to many preachers and mission workers to help in their activities and/or to meet their personal needs.
OUR SOCIAL LIFE AND ACTIVITIES
Although our focus was largely on the spiritual well being of our Congregation, we have also built up a regular social calendar of events mainly with a view to building our Congregation into a close knit family. Regular social events on our annual calendar include:
• Annual Summer Picnics – The first picnic was organised in the summer of 1988 at the Rockingham Beach. Having tried out alternative venues, the Rockingham beach became the most popular site with the members. The beach, the barbeque and other facilities, made Rockingham a very suitable location and environment for an enjoyable summer picnic. The picnics were a time for fun and fellowship. In addition to a dip in the water we had games and cricket matches.
• Winter Dinners – Outdoor activities were not possible in winter and therefore the Congregation organised an Annual Winter Dinner as part of our social calendar. The first such dinner was held in 1989. The dinners were held in August each year. The Congregation’s ladies usually prepared the food for the dinners, although on some occasions we have opted to have the food catered. The ladies arranged the serving of the food and the “cleaning and clearing up” after the dinner. Ladies appointed to co-ordinate the catering arrangements always ensured that there was more than enough food to go around and there was plenty left over even after the more “hungry” members had enjoyed a second and third serving!
Many of our members come from the Jaffna district of Sri Lanka. The Christian community in Jaffna being relatively small, a number of them have been married into each other’s families. It is not unusual to hear of “connections” being traced among the members of the Congregation, such as:
• “My sister is married to his brother”
• “We are both married to two sisters”
• “She is my cousin, my grandmother’s sister’s granddaughter”
• “She or he is my cousin – because we have the same great grandfather”
• “My mother’s brother and sister are married to his mother’s sister and brother
• “He is my father’s, sister’s, brother-in-law’s son”
Such close family relationships were not common among Tamil Christians of Indian origin in our Congregation as the Tamil Christian population in South India is much larger. Nevertheless, they are closely knit community in Perth.
Distance from our homeland and already existing close relationships made us become one big family, building even closer personal and family relationships among members.
Members provided mutual support to each other in times of stress and sorrow. During times of bereavement and illness, our members rallied to support those affected by providing food, visiting and assisting them with other household duties. The Congregation conducted services at “viewings” and assisted with funeral arrangements of members of the Congregation.
We have regularly conducted prayer meetings at the residences of members who had lost loved ones inter-state or overseas. At the request of some of our non-Christian friends, similar prayer meetings have been conducted by us at their residences to celebrate the lives of lost loved ones.
We also shared our joys. The members of the Congregation have organised functions to celebrate special anniversaries and birthdays. Birth of a child was a special occasion and members came forward to assist the parents and share in their joy.
Monthly newsletters introduced in 1999, kept members informed about Congregational activities, information about events in member’s families and important dates for their social calendar. In recent years we have set a web-site to keep members informed of such events, other matters of interest to them.
The acting and musical talents of the Congregation’s members are well known among the Tamil Community of Perth. They have participated in special functions organised by other Tamil groups in Perth, such as, Seniors Day and some cultural events.
Since inception in September 1986, our monthly worship services have been regularly held at the Osborne Park Uniting Church, which has been the Congregation’s spiritual home throughout this period of 25 years.
The Group’s other activities, such as choir practices, social gatherings and dinners were organised at other venues. Initially, the Tamil Illam (Tamil House) in Brisbane Street, Perth, which was the main office of the Tamil Association of WA, was used for the other activities. In the early nineties, when the Association decided to use the building for other purposes, we moved to other locations. The Tamil Association offered us the use of Mandela Hall in Bateman, which was being managed by them. We used this hall for our social events, choir practices and special meetings from the early to mid nineteen nineties Subsequently we moved to the St. Martins Anglican Church in Noranda, Maylands Uniting Church and other locations.
OUR CONTRIBUTION TO CHRISTIAN MISSION AND OUTREACH
In addition to the financial assistance provided to many preachers and mission workers, we have provided financial assistance to those in need and those affected by violence and natural disasters. The funds for these outreach activities and donations were raised through special appeals to members of the Congregation and fund raising events. The three special fund raising events held in the twenty five years were the Variety Entertainment staged on 29th September 2001 at the Perth Modern Senior High School, and two special dinners hosted at the Churchlands Christian Fellowship, Balcatta in June 2005 and 2006.
Through members’ voluntary contributions and these special fundraising events we have provided financial assistance to:
• Sponsor a child through World Vision – a contribution we have made for a number of years
• Persons in Jaffna affected by civil disturbances
• Flood victims in Bangladesh
• East Timor Refugees
• Earth Quake Victims in India
• Tsunami victims – immediate relief and assistance for long-term rehabilitation
• Internally Displaced Persons in the North of Sri Lanka – Medical and other assistance
We are currently providing ongoing financial and prayer support to Y-Grow in Sri Lanka and KRUPA Charitable Trust in South India.
Some of our members have been engaged in medical missions in places like Nepal on a long-term and short-term basis. Others have similarly undertaken mission work in different parts of the world. The Congregation has supported their work through regular prayers and financial support as necessary.
OUR NON-CHRISTIAN SUPPORTERS
Many non-Christians in Perth have assisted us in inaugurating our congregation and providing support in the early years of our existence, even participating as choir members for the Carol Services. Their continued support through attendance and participation in our activities has always been a source of encouragement to us. We greatly appreciate their past assistance and continued support.
Mention should also be made of the significant financial support provided by “Crazy John’s” (an organisation that was owned by one of Islamic faith) for the celebration of our 20th Anniversary.
OUR MEMBERS’ CONTRIBUTION
Grateful thanks are due to our members without whose support for the Congregation’s activities through the past twenty five years, we would not have achieved the growth we have had as a vibrant Christian Congregation shining as a beacon of light to the many non-believers and those in need. Our members have always responded willingly and readily when called upon to organise events or take on other responsibilities.
On an occasion like this we would like to remember the contributions of members who have passed away; Mrs Winnie Rajasunderam, Mrs Athisayam Ponnambalam, Mr N S Rathinasingham, Mrs Mary Muttucumaru, Mrs Lizzie Joseph, Mr Albert Rasiah, Mrs Grace Somasunderam, and Mrs Kamala de Mel. Special mention should be made of the contribution made by the late Mr Rathinasingham to the spiritual development of the Congregation and for his valuable support, advice and guidance in the management of the Congregation’s affairs.
OUR FUTURE HOPES
Our congregation is a multi-denominational group. We have traditionalists, reformists, Pentecostalists, persons who have been baptised as Roman Catholics and even non-Christians who are Associate Members. It is a fine example of unity in diversity. What has united us is our commitment for the glory of God. We have succeeded in creating a vibrant fellowship among the members of the Congregation. To remain in commitment to that fellowship is a sign of God’s Spirit at work. Going forward we trust that God will guide us to safeguard this unity and live as God’s people clothed with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience.
The future of the Congregation to a large extent depends on the retention of the young members to take over the responsibilities for the Congregation’s affairs. The youth have contributed in many ways to the growth of the Congregation in this 25 year period through their participation in worship services and other special events. We earnestly hope that they would continue to support the Congregation in the future as they have in the past.