We travelled back to Sri Lanka in early January to support our friend, the Ven. Keerthi Fernando, at his Consecration and Enthronement as the new Bishop of Kurunegala, on the feast of Epiphany, 6th January.
Also see our Facebook photos, see link to left.
The Consecration was spectacular. Three separate processions, each led by numerous marching bands and troops of traditional Kandyan dancers, started the service. Over 2500 people had gathered, overflowing into tented extension to the church, and a huge open-air screen. For me it was wonderful to reconnect with so many of the faces we had met during our two months here last year. People had travelled from all over the country, Kilinochchi and Jaffna in the north, Galle in the south, to the Up Country area in the middle of the country.
The service’s significance was underlined by the attendance of numerous foreign bishops as well as government dignitaries. But for all huge sense of occasion it has to be remembered that Anglicanism represents a tiny minority faith in Sri Lanka (Footnote: There are about 50,000 Anglicans, out of a population of 22million). Many ordinary Sri Lankans we encountered had no notion of the Anglican Church.
The service demonstrated the strong multifaith relationships that the Anglican church has nurtured in the Buddhist majority country. The very best seats in the proceedings were given to the delegation of Buddhist monks who sat through the whole 4.5 hour service in reclining lounge type chairs in the front of the church. While they took no part in the service, even standing for any part of it, the presence was valued, sitting even in front of the members of Government.
One of the most precious gifts Bishop Keerthi received was a staff from an Orthodox Bishop from the Malankara Orthodox Syrian Church, a church which traces its self back to the mission of Thomas the Apostle in the 1st century. For Bishop Keerthi, their presence was particularly valuable, a visible reminder of the long tradition of Christianity in the Indian sub continent, which includes Sri Lanka; long pre-dating the arrival of the colonial missionaries.
The Anglican church though small, plays an important part Sri Lanka. With thousands of children educated in the 14 Anglican schools. It is one of the few institutions that is spread geographically throughout the country and attracts members from all strata of society as well as ethnic and language groups. Congregations are drawn from the well-educated Sinhalese urban middle classes, from the deeply isolated Upcountry Tamils, and from the Tamils in the north and east rebuilding their lives in the aftermath of the civil war. Please keep Bishop Keerthi in your prayers has he tackles some of the huge challenges of his new role, not least that his new role has been vacant for the past 2 years.