Dr. D. T. Niles, s. d.

Dr. Daniel Thambyrajah Niles (DT Niles), whose 48th death anniversary falls on the 17th of July 2018, was remembered on Sunday, the 15th July 2018 at the monthly ecumenical gathering and worship held at St. Peter’s Methodist Church, Jaffna. Dr. D. T. Niles was a prominent preacher and scholar who was a prominent figure in the Christian world. He was also an influential author who has held important positions in the EACC, WCC, NCC etc. Dr. D. T. Niles died in Vellore and is buried there.

Jaffna Christian Union (JCU) organizes monthly ecumenical services in the member churches in rotation on every third Sunday of the month.  The Rev. Dr K.J. Arularajah, Superintendent Minister of the Methodist Church in Jaffna conducted the worship with the participation of the ministers of other denominations.  While the Reverend Parimala Selvan of the Anglican Church led the congregation in the act of confession, the Rev. Ms. Irene Shalini Antonyrajah of the CSI read the lesson for the day.  The service began with a ‘Thevaram’ beautifully sung by Roy Rajendra, and Mr Vithiananthanesan, Vice President of the JCU led the intercessions.

The Bishop of the Church of South India in the Jaffna Diocese, Rt. Rev. Dr. Daniel Selvaratnam Thiagarajah who was baptized in the same church by Dr. D. T. Niles in December 1955 was invited to preach the sermon at the event. The sermon was based on a passage Dr. Niles used almost closer to his death, Isaiah 51.1-2, “Listen to me, you that pursue righteousness, you that seek the Lord.  Look to the rock from which you were hewn, and the quarry from which you were dug.  Look to Abraham your father and to Sarah who bore you; for he was but one when I called him, but I blessed him and made him many.”  That day Dr. Niles preached on “who we are” and “where we come from”.The sermon reminisced the words of Dr. Niles about the need for the fellowship of church in Christ across time and space, and God’s faithfulness from generation to generation.  Christ is the rock from which all of us are hewn and the story of his death and resurrection is the quarry from which all are dug.  One will lose one’s bearings if that person forgets this.

The Bishop brought to memory the foundational formation of DT’s character of theology, prayers and preaching.  When DT lost his mother when he was only a year old his grandmother took care of him.  She was very much closer to Hinduism and Saiva piety.  Hence his grandmother’s impact was a main source for his formation.  DT always focused his thinking on the human response to the divine initiative, a truth his grandmother learned from Saiva devotional tradition.  The second influence on DT was his paternal grandmother, Mary Joshua (wife of Daniel Poor Niles) about whom DT said, “Because I lost my mother when I was a year old, she filled that place also in my life and my recollections of her are always happy ones.”  Naturally the third and important force behind DT’s making was the Christian understanding of God and the Gospel.

DT, on the one hand, fostered ecumenism in the local level by being a driving force for the movements like SCM, YMCA, YWCA, CWF and EISD, he was much sought for in the ecumenical level at the East Asia Christian Conference (EACC), World Student Christian Fellowship (WSCF) and the World Council of Churches (WCC) on the other hand.  D.T. Niles was the only person who either delivered a sermon or made a speech at three WCC Assemblies: First in Amsterdam(1948), second in Evanston, USA (1954) and fourth assembly in Uppsala, Sweden (1968).

DT’s close association with great theologians like Karl Barth and Emil Brunner and the ecumenical giants like John R. Mott, JH Oldham and Dr Willem Visser’t Hooft made him what he was.  This was evident, the bishop added, in the book titled “Brothers of the Faith” by Bishop Stephen Neil who mentioned DT among the list of other important names such as John R. Mott, Archbishop William Temple, Pope John XXIII as leaders of the ecumenical movement in the 20th century.  The bishop said that DT’s two important initiatives cannot be forgotten, the first being the organization of All Ceylon Christian Conferences (from which came first was the Uduvil Conference) and the second being the unity of the Protestant Churches in Sri Lanka (the Scheme of Union).

Bishop Thiagarajah ended his tribute cum sermon by quoting Hebrews 12.1-3 and challenging the congregation that all should venture leave behind every sin and weight that cling to all so closely to move forward since all are surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses among whom DT is numbered.


The Rev. T.H. Vasanthakumar, President of Jaffna Christian Union proposed the vote of thanks and the service came to an end with the prayer offered and the benediction pronounced by Bishop Daniel Thiagarajah.  St. Peter’s Methodist Church entertained all to a fellowship tea.


Somehow, near him, it was easier to believe in God, the father of Jesus Christ;

Somehow, with him, it always seemed worthwhile to tackle the impossible task;

Somehow, in his presence, prayer & forgiveness & faith were more tangible than the things of the earth.”   – Alan Brash of EACC at DT’s funeral in Vellore

Click the link below to watch the full sermon of Bishop Daniel Thiagarajah’s remembering Dr D.T. Niles on his 48th death anniversary.