I had the honour last weekend of joining the Tamil Congregation in worship. As a community, they used to worship at Dulwich Hill but have now moved to Northmead as part of the Parramatta-Nepean Presbytery. Prayers and hymns were offered in both English and Tamil and I was grateful for the transliteration using our Latin alphabet of the Tamil script for the latter so I could do my best to join my voice to those around me.
I find it a helpful spiritual discipline to feel a little dislocated when worshipping with congregations who use languages other than English. It’s part of the privilege of my role that I get to share in worship in many languages throughout our Presbytery. Whether with our Rotuman sisters and brothers in Drummoyne, or with Koreans in South Strathfield, with Fijians in Canterbury, with Indonesians in Wentworthville or with Tongans in Mascot or Petersham or Ashfield or Hurlstone Park or the many other places in which our people gather to worship, witness and serve.
It’s only a little dislocating to be following a familiar pattern of liturgy and not know the exact words being used at various points in the service. It’s not overly challenging to find your way through a hymn tune picking up the nuances of pronunciation from the people around you. It’s not really a large leap from my location of privilege and comfort to be carried along in any unfamiliar language for a while. Besides, the spirit in the voices and looks on the faces of the people communicates more than enough of what it means to belong amongst each of those communities.
The Minister of the Tamil Congregation, Rev. Dr. John Jegasothy, turned 70 that day and the Tamil community celebrated after worship with speeches and a big feast. Stories were told of John’s tireless work over many, many years with refugees, and John’s work of the practical, pastoral and relational work of building community. We heard of John’s own experience of dislocation and grief as a refugee himself, and of his tireless commitment, alongside his dedicated wife Shanti and their two sons James and Edward, to build a new life not just for themselves but for so many who came after them fleeing violence and intimidation.
One young man bore witness to John’s ministry that had carried him from the uncertainty of the detention centre to an established life in Australia with a family and a career as a scientist. I can only imagine the magnitude of the dislocation that has been experienced by so many and I join my heart in giving thanks for the dislocation that has been overcome through the community of the Church and the faithful exercise of Christ’s ministry of reconciliation and renewal.
So, from all of us, Happy 70th Birthday John, and thank you for your clear example as an ambassador of Jesus Christ!
May God prosper the ministries of all who toil to build community as a response to the reconciling grace encountered in Jesus Christ.