Amongst those who came to Sri Lanka two hundred years ago to seek their fortunes, was a community of tea planters from Britain, many of whom were Scottish. In fact, it was a Scotsman, Thomas Lipton, who first developed the tea trade in what was then known as Ceylon. The Lipton brand of tea is well known to this day around the world. The early planters left their mark through the names of some of the present day plantations in the Hill Country – for example, Edinburgh, Strathdon and Invergordon. They also left their church buildings in Kandy, Haputale and Colombo. These were not missionary endeavours but spiritual “homes away from home” for Scottish Presbyterians.
Worship at St. Andrew’s Scots Kirk, in Princes Street, Fort, Colombo, began on 21st October 1842. It was a member congregation of the Presbytery of Ceylon, part of the Church of Scotland, hence the name “Scots Kirk”. The congregation enjoyed good relations with its Presbyterian brothers and sisters in the Dutch Reformed Churches of the city. (The Dutch preceded the British in colonizing Ceylon.) The church experienced good times of growth but had to endure some difficult times especially when one minister departed and another was still to make the arduous sea journey out from Scotland.
Under the ministry of the Rev. Alexander Dunn, the church moved to its new premises at 73 Galle Road, Colpetty, in 1906. The site at Fort was required for other purposes and the city was beginning to spread south through Colpetty.
In the twenty years after independence was granted to Ceylon in 1948, the Scottish community diminished significantly.
In 2007, St. Andrew’s Scots Kirk became a “sanctioned charge”, that is a full member, of the Presbytery of Europe (now known as the International Presbytery) of the Church of Scotland and an associate member of the local Presbytery of Lanka.
Today, more than half the congregation is from Asia with the other half coming from the other four continents of the world. A congregational (and pastoral) roll, rather than a membership roll, is maintained because so many of those attending are “sojourners” in Sri Lanka, here for the season of a contract with government, embassies, high commissions, the United Nations, other non-governmental organisations and a variety of commercial companies.
In 2013, for the first time in its history, St Andrew’s had a Nominating Committee of thirteen members drawn from the congregation with responsibility to select and recommend a sole nominee to become the next minister.
In 2014, the Rev. Roderick Campbell was inducted as Minister of St. Andrew’s but left prematurely in November 2015. The Rev. Stewart Lamont served as Locum Minister from March to July 2016. Since then, the congregation has managed with visiting clergy from local churches taking services each Sunday. On occasion, Kirk Session members have been known to take the Sunday service. The current Interim Moderator is the Rev. Jim Sharp, who is based in Geneva, Switzerland, and visits Colombo once or twice a year.