More than 200 people attended a farewell lunch for Rev Ojitha Goonetilleke (pictured), who retired from full-time ministry at the end of April. Mr Goonetilleke has served the church for more than 40 years in Sri Lanka and Australia.
His final posting was at Burwood Heights UC where he was the minister for the past six years.
Stefan Abeysekara spoke warmly of his good friend. The two men grew up and met in Colombo and rekindled their friendship when Mr Goonetilleke began his ministry in Clifton Hill.
“I was privileged to observe first hand a true healer at work,” Mr Abeysekara said. “The local congregation had started a community for ‘mentally ill’ people who lived in houses adjacent to the main church. There were many non-residents who dropped in when they needed emergency care, money, food, or simply someone to talk to.
“The clients were persecuted and haunted by the ostracism of their own friends and family, that silent, ruthless execution employed by consumer society on those who don’t fit in. Exiled to their apartments, you would meet some of the sweetest, most sensitive and creative people.
“With Oji there was no looking at the clock, no ‘I’m too busy’. Hospitals, courthouses and jails became part of his daily routine. It was a revelation to witness people in an extremely secular society turning to a priest as their first and last resort for the alleviation of pain. They weren’t his clients, they were his friends.”
Mr Abeysekara said he continued to learn from his friend. As well as deep conversations on spirituality and the human condition, the two maintained a love of sport. He said they would “sneak off like schoolchildren” to watch cricket and boxing on TV.
While describing the retirement of Mr Goonetilleke as the ‘end of an era’, Mr Abeysekara is looking forward to sharing the next chapter – or book – in the life of his friend.
“His current ministry ends this week and a new one nears,” Mr Abeysekara said. “I’m waiting for this most modest of men to write his own revolutionary Summa Theologica.”