As the first Friday in March rapidly approaches, Christians around the world will begin to heed the call to gather for the annual World Day of Prayer. Services will begin in those countries immediately west of the international date line, sometimes even at dawn, and conclude in those countries east of this geographical division of time. Prayer will envelop the world as a great wave of prayers circumnavigates the globe over the course of this day of unity as people pray with one another.
In 1887, Mary Ellen Fairchild James of New York, USA, called for a day of prayer for home missions. Her voice was soon joined by a chorus of women’s voices calling for a day or even a week of prayer and self-denial, as they focused on praying for and with others around the world. This call to prayer and unity was embraced by Christian women, and it evolved to become the World Day of Prayer. In some countries it is called the Women’s World Day of Prayer, but in most places both Christian women and men are encouraged to draw together for prayers and worship on this day. Go to https://worlddayofprayer.net/about.html for more about the World Day of Prayer.
The Christian women of Sri Lanka and the women of the Asian Church Women’s Conference, as well as the members of World Day of Prayer Australia, Australian Church Women and the Anglican Church, all have a ‘special’ connection to the World Day of Prayer because of their past relationship with Rathi Selvaratnam. Rathi was a gifted and godly woman, well known and much loved by many for her kindness and encouragement, and her passion for the World Day of Prayer (WDP), the Asian Church Women’s Conference (ACWC), the Fellowship of the Least Coin (FLC) prayer movement and various Christian women’s organisations.
From 1966–70, Rathi was the Chairman of both the Asian Church Women’s Conference and the Central Committee of the Fellowship of the Least Coin. At that time Rathi lived in Colombo, Ceylon (Sri Lanka), and she was very active in the Anglican Church, women’s organisations and various charities. Her husband was the Rev. John Selvaratnam, President of St Thomas College, an Anglican boys’ college.
In early July 1967, Rathi attended the Anderson International Consultation convened by Church Women United, USA, held at the Anderson College in Indiana, before going on to the 11th Ecumenical Assembly of Church Women United, held at Purdue University, Indiana. At the Anderson International Consultation, a Workshop on the World Day of Prayer was held, and the creation of an international committee was discussed, and a plan formulated for a provisional international committee. Rathi was elected to chair the Provisional Committee, and this committee convened the first meeting of the International Committee for World Day of Prayer. The Provisional Committee met in Sweden after the 1968 Assembly of the World Council of Churches.
It was also Rathi’s privilege to prepare the service for the 1968 World Day of Prayer with the theme of ‘Bear ye one another's Burdens’. She used resources known throughout the world by Christians, particularly those from Asia, and collaborated with other Asian colleagues to write the service and compile a month of prayers and meditations for each day leading up to the World Day of Prayer.
From 20–25 July 1968, 34 women from 23 countries met together at Hasselby Slott, a renovated medieval castle in Vallingby, Sweden, and Rathi was the Chairman of the Provisional Committee. Her leadership was gracious and memorable, and focused on the unity of Christian prayer. The report of the administrative secretary for the first meeting in Sweden ‘indicated that the expenses of this first meeting had been covered by contributions of $6,612.77 [US] made by the Asian Church Women’s Conference from the Fellowship of the Least Coin and seven national committees.’1
Several recommendations were made at this committee meeting, and one of them was that the next meeting was to take place close to the 1970 Assembly of the Asian Church Women’s Conference. After the ACWC Assembly at Sukabumi, Indonesia, where Rathi Selvaratnam was the Chairman of the ACWC, the International Committee for World Day of Prayer met in Bangkok, Thailand.
The International Committee for World Day of Prayer, the Asian Church Women’s Conference, and the International Committee of the Fellowship of the Least Coin continue to maintain a close relationship with one another. The Chairperson of the International Committee for World Day of Prayer is a member of the International Committee of the Fellowship of the Least Coin (ICFLC) and the members of the ICFLC attend the Quadrennial Assembly of the Asian Church Women’s Conference and follow the Assembly with their annual ICFLC meeting.
Rathi Selvaratnam was a wonderful, encouraging woman that I was fortunate to know for approximately eight years. Several times I was the recipient of one of her cards or phone calls that let me know she was thinking of me and praying for me. Rathi and her husband travelled to many places and lived in at least one other country, besides Sri Lanka, before settling in Melbourne, Australia. I know only a little of Rathi's life story and have given only a glimpse of her in this blog post; there is so much more about her, and who she was and what she achieved. Hopefully, someone will have the time to write the life story of Rathi, an inspirational woman.
1 ‘Just Because: the story of the national movement of Church Women United in the U.S.A. 1941 through 1975’ by Margaret Shannon, Omega Books, Corte Madera, California, p. 319.