My sabbatical will have two foci of interest. One of those, will be to research churches where congregations meet for different types of services just once a month. The other focus will be a long visit to Sri Lanka: that is the subject of this article.
I will be re-establishing contact with a Sri Lankan Anglican priest, Keerthi Fernando, who studied at the University of Kent 15 years ago while I was vicar in Whitstable. During that time, Keerthi regularly led church services with me. He and his wife Arlene also did much with local schools and churches to promote cultural awareness of Sri Lanka. Our families had plenty of fun together on these evenings and at other times, and became good friends.
Following the Boxing-Day tsunami, Keerthi and Arlene mobilised a huge fundraising effort in Whitstable. Keerthi was particularly inspirational with his work of reconciliation, both in the Sri Lankan diaspora in the UK and between the divided communities of his then war-torn homeland.
Since returning to Sri Lanka, Keerthi has been made Archdeacon of Nuwara Eliya, looking after a large number of churches in the centre of Sri Lanka’s tea producing area. He will enable me to see how Anglican churches interact with the tea plantation workers, supporting them in their spiritual lives and in their social needs.
There are other issues of interest. The country is slowly recovering from a bitter 26-year civil war. The Anglican Church, along with other Christian denominations, has been instrumental in promoting reconciliation and understanding between Tamil and Sinhalese communities. This is set against a background of suspicion from the Sinhalese majority, among whom Buddhist nationalism predominates. Christianity is a minority faith and Anglicans are small players within it; nevertheless, the Anglican Church has managed to have a significant impact on the wellbeing of the country. I look forward to seeing some of this work first hand.
Finally, I hope to travel around Sri Lanka and see for myself some of its fabled natural beauty. I am interested in how the country meets the challenge of balancing the exploitation of its natural resources with the preservations of a good environment for its people.