The Archdeacon of Nuwara Eliya in the Church of Ceylon’s Diocese of Colombo, the Ven Keerthisiri Fernando, has been selected to serve as the next bishop of Kurunegala. The see has been vacant since its former bishop, Gregory Francis, stood down in January 2015 at the request of the Diocesan Standing Committee. The Bishop of Colombo, Dhiloraj Canagasabey, had been acting as Vicar General of Kurunegala.
Anglicanism in Ceylon has its origins in in 1796 when the Church of England established churches for the colonial powers. Like most overseas outposts, it was structurally and legally part of the Diocese of London. In 1818 missionaries from CMS arrived in Ceylon and the new Archdeaconry of Ceylon became part of the embryonic Diocese of Calcutta; moving to the Diocese of Madras in 1835. The diocese of Colombo was founded in 1845. Just over a century later – in 1946, the Diocese of Kurunegala was established.
In 1930, the Diocese of Colombo became the Church of Ceylon – a member of the Anglican Province of India, Burma and Ceylon. Further developments saw the Churches of North India, South India and Pakistan becoming independent United Churches; and the Diocese of Burma becoming its own autonomous province, the Church of the Anglican Province of Myanmar. The two dioceses of the Church of Ceylon became extra-provincial – existing outside an Anglican Province – and under the metropolitical authority of the Archbishop of Canterbury.
In April last year, at its meeting in Lusaka, the Anglican Consultative Council welcomed the aspiration of the Church of Ceylon to “regulate its own affairs and govern itself independent of the metropolitical authority of the Archbishop of Canterbury.”
The Church of Ceylon has established a commission to consult and further its journey towards becoming an autonomous province. This was affirmed by the ACC, which asked the Anglican Communion’s Standing Committee to “take into account the unique situation of this national church which is passionately engaged in the work of reconciliation especially as it emerges from a long period of civil war.”
Bishop-designate Keerthisiri Fernando is an expert in inter-faith dialogue and has written extensively on Christian-Buddhist relationships. He is a member of Nifcon – the Anglican Communion’s Network for Inter-Faith Concerns. He has studied in the UK, India and Sri Lanka and is currently exploring “creation and recreation of identities among Sinhala speaking Christians in Sri Lanka” as part of his studies for a Doctorate in the sociology of religion with theological implications and repercussions.
Fernando was ordained a deacon in May 1989 and a priest in November 1990.