The Council for World Mission mourns the passing of Dr Daniel Preman Niles on Thursday, 3 August 2023—on the same day after his beloved wife, Sherina Niles, passed away a year ago—at his residence in Beckenham, London. Dr Niles was the third General Secretary of the CWM and served the community of churches in mission with great commitment from 1991-2002. His visionary leadership and unwavering commitment to the mission of CWM have left an indelible mark on the CWM.
Emanating from Sri Lanka, as one of the two sons of Dr DT Niles, he had his theological training at Oxford University, and Princeton Theological Seminary, where he did his doctorate in biblical studies specialising in the Old Testament. He spent six years teaching and serving as an Academic Dean at the United Theological College of Lanka. He moved to Singapore in 1979 to work for the Christian Conference of Asia (CCA) as Executive Secretary for Theological Concerns, focusing on theology in Asia, and subsequently, he was appointed as CCA’s Associate General Secretary in 1983. He helped the organisation to stabilise its financial situation. In 1986 he was appointed Director for the programme on Justice, Peace, and the Integrity of Creation (JPIC) at the World Council of Churches (WCC). He organised the JPIC Convocation in Seoul from 5-13 March 1990, which was considered one of the major events of the ecumenical movement, bringing together about 1000 global Christian leaders, theologians and activists to support the creative power of people’s movements in their struggle for human dignity, liberation, and the achievement of just and participatory forms of government, in part through resisting life-threatening systems.
As the General Secretary of the CWM, Dr Niles assumed a pivotal role in shaping the future of global mission work for the CWM community. During his tenure, he enabled an ecumenical process to further the discussion on cross-cultural and contextual approaches to theology. He also initiated the process for the Network of Theological Enquiry (NOTE) as an effort to help bridge the divide between theology and religious studies and explore common concerns among theologians from the global south. Jointly published by the CWM and CCA, The People of God Among All God’s People: Frontiers in Christian Mission can be seen as one of the prominent outcomes of the NOTE process. He facilitated the process of creating an endowment fund through the capital received as the Gift of Grace from the sale of Nethersole Hospital in Hong Kong. As a result, CWM not only was able to begin the Mission Support Programmes (MSP) but also stabilised its financial status even today.
Through his leadership in prominent global ecumenical organisations, to which he dedicated most of his life, and through his academic scholarship, he contributed greatly towards the global ecumenical community, especially the Asian contextual and liberation theology. His recent publications, The Lotus and the Sun and Is God Christian? are a couple examples of his commitment to promoting Asian contextual and public theology. A festschrift titled, Scripture, Community and Mission, was jointly published in 2003 by the CWM and CCA in honour of Dr Niles.
Dr Niles understood that the challenges of our time required not only intellectual solutions but also the development of a shared understanding and a collective will to effect positive change. His approach to global mission was inclusive and participatory, recognising the wealth of wisdom that emerged from the diverse cultures and traditions of Asia.
He tirelessly worked to bring people together, encouraging interfaith dialogue, and promoting respect for differences as well as shared values. He served as an inspiration to numerous young Asian theologians and offered them opportunities to develop contextual ways of living out theology in Asia. His ability to connect with individuals from all walks of life was a testament to his genuine humility and compassion.
As we bid farewell to this extraordinary leader, let us remember and celebrate the life he lived, the ecumenical values he stood for, and the theological inspiration he provided to us all.
On behalf of the CWM Moderator, Rev. Lydia Neshangwe, Directors, Trustees, member churches, and all my staff colleagues, I extend my deepest condolences and prayers to his children, Damayanthi, Dharman, and Radhika, family members, and all those who grieve his passing. The CWM staff held a memorial prayer on Monday, 7 August 2023, at the CWM office in Singapore, celebrating the life of Dr Niles.
May his soul rest in eternal peace, and may his legacy continue to shine brightly in our hearts.
Rev. Dr Jooseop Keum
Council for World Mission