Abu Dhabi: The 50 years’ existence of St Andrew’s church in the capital reflects the UAE’s tradition of tolerance, a senior official said here on Wednesday evening during a ceremony to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the church.
The church shares its premises with many other Christian congregations from across the globe, which is an example of tolerance, said Shaikh Nahyan Bin Mubarak Al Nahyan, Minister of Tolerance, in his message during the service of thanksgiving at the church.
While welcoming people from all parts of the world in the initial years of the UAE as a nation, the late Shaikh Zayed realised the need of worship for everyone, irrespective of their faith, Shaikh Nahyan said.
He expressed his hope that the church would continue its good work. “The future looks very good indeed,” Shaikh Nahyan said.
Bishop Michael Lewis, the leader of the Anglican Diocese of Cyprus and the Gulf, said the word ‘tolerance’ was not enough to describe the UAE’s gesture of welcoming law-abiding Christians from across the globe and granting them freedom of worship.
According to church records, the history of the church began when the first Anglican chaplain travelled to the UAE in the late 1950s, offering services to the expatriate community. On one occasion, the chaplain sang a Christmas carol to the bemused Shaikh Shakbut Al Nahyan, the then ruler of Abu Dhabi, who granted land for the Anglican church to be built.
Canon Andrew Thompson, senior chaplain at the church, said the first church building came up in 1968 on the Abu Dhabi corniche, offering worship facilities for oil-and-gas workers of BP (British Petroleum). St Andrew’s became a centre for the diverse Christian community in the city. The worshippers were from various parts of the world, including Korean nurses, Indian Martoma teachers, Pakistani engineers and European diplomats. Within 10 years, services were being conducted in 12 languages, Thompson said.
Today, St Andrew’s church hosts more than 50 congregations from Christian traditions as diverse as Ethiopian Orthodox to the Nepali Evangelical, Brazilian Pentecostal, Greek Orthodox, Egyptian Coptic Orthodox, Chinese Evangelical and several Indian and Filipino Pentecostal groups, the chaplain said.
Over the decades, St Andrew’s has been a spiritual home to thousands of Christians and has seen countless weddings and baptisms. The church has also been the comforting centre for moments of great sadness during times of bereavement and crisis, he said.
The church has acted as a bridge to all other churches since the beginning. “We also see bridge building between Christians and Muslims as an essential activity and regular interfaith events and activities take place, in which mutual understanding and appreciation flourish,” Thompson said.
Two more churches to come up in Abu Dhabi
Two more churches will come up in Abu Dhabi under the St Andrew’s church.
“The future plans include launching new worship centres in Al Ain [named St Thomas] and in Mussaffah [named All Saints],” said Canon Andrew Thompson, senior chaplain at the church.
“We celebrate the legacy of the late Shaikh Zayed’s vision for an inclusive and harmonious society and we pray that we will continue to do our part in blessing the nation of the UAE as they have blessed us,” he said.
The All Saints Anglican Church in Mussaffah is expected to be the region’s largest Anglican church, Thompson said. The under-construction building is 50 per cent complete on the land donated by President His Highness Shaikh Khalifa Bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Thompson said.
The church will be able to accommodate more than 4,000 worshippers when complete.
The construction of the new church started in 2014. The new church will provide much-needed new space for Christian worshippers in the capital, as existing churches were finding it hard to accommodate the high numbers.
Thompson also said the church would welcome blue-collar workers living in the labour housing clusters in Musaffah.
The new church will also welcome other Christian denominations to come and carry out their services, he said.