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The Rev. Dr. Shanta D. Premawardhana

Shanta PremawardhanaThe Rev. Dr. Shanta D. Premawardhana is the Associate General Secretary of the National Council of Churches USA for Interfaith Relations and Director of the NCC Interfaith Relations Commission.

Before coming to the Council in 2003, Premawardhana was senior pastor of Chicago’s Ellis Avenue Church (formerly Cornell Baptist Church), and during that time was active in the Hyde Park and Kenwood Interfaith Council. Founded in 1911, this organization is said to be one of the nation’s oldest interfaith organizations.

From 1996-1998, Premawardhana served as president of that organization, which currently includes 38 Christian, Hindu, Jewish and Muslim congregations and organizations. He is recognized for his leadership in building relationships across social boundaries that normally divide, for training people in interfaith dialogue and for helping Christian members of the Council reflect on "Removing Anti-Judaism From the Pulpit."

Premawardhana was a leader in the congregation-based community organizing network, the Gamaliel Foundation. Christian, Jewish and Muslim congregations across racial, ethnic and economic lines join in 51 community organizations in 28 states to work together for issues of economic justice and immigrant rights.

Premawardhana was also the vice-president of the Chicago-based Metropolitan Alliance of Congregations, which currently has a membership of about 100 congregations. During his tenure in Chicago, these congregations successfully lobbied to pass legislation that allows immigrant students to pay in-state tuition in Illinois colleges and universities. They also worked on legislation to reform education funding, which currently perpetuates wide disparities.

His accomplishments built on earlier interfaith experience, including the insights he gained as founding pastor of the Chicago Ashram of Jesus Christ in Skokie, Ill., a Christian community with an outreach to South Asian immigrants of various faith groups. The Ashram’s programs included small group interfaith dialogues, in which persons of different religious traditions met weekly in each other’s homes, to learn from each other’s journeys of faith.

Premawardhana has been Vice-President of the Alliance of Baptists, an NCC member communion. From 1995-98, he chaired the standing committee on Interfaith Relations and was instrumental in helping the Alliance adopt an historic "Statement on Jewish Christian Relations."

Of his role as pastor, Premawardhana notes that his job was "to equip the saints for the work of ministry." Acting on that phrase from Ephesians 4:11-12, he led members of his congregation in focused efforts to identify the gifts with which God has graced them, and to use their talents in ministries that touch their immediate neighborhood, their city and state. Internationally, he has led the church to develop relationships with churches in Nigeria, Sri Lanka and Zimbabwe.

Among the honors he has earned, the Academy of Parish Clergy, a national organization of Christian clergy, named him 1998 Parish Pastor of the Year.

Premawardhana was born in Colombo, Sri Lanka, and received his seminary education in Sri Lanka and India. He went on to do graduate work at Northwestern University, Evanston, Ill., earning a master’s degree in Comparative Religion: Buddhism and Christianity, and a doctoral degree in Phenomenology of Religions, with a specialty in Hinduism and Christianity.

He is married to the musician and piano teacher, Dhilanthi Fernando, and has three children, Charith, Devaka and Amali.


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