Dubai: When the coronavirus outbreak took place and places of worship in the UAE were closed as a precautionary measure, Christians in the country wondered how they would attend regular worship services or prayer meetings.
Two weeks on, most people are worshipping, attending prayer meetings and holding Bible classes from the comfort of their homes thanks to the use of technology. In fact, attendance to many of the prayer meetings has grown online because people are not limited by time and space. Without having to budget time for tackling traffic or looking for parking in crowded areas, the faithful can now hear a sermon or take part in a prayer meeting along with the entire family from their home by logging in to an app or visiting the church website.
I have found that people are serious at these online meetings, attending them prayerfully, with entire families taking part from the comfort of their homes.
Rev Siju C. Philip, vicar of the Mar Thoma Church, Dubai, said prayer meetings are being held online regularly and are also convenient. “I am able to address three or more groups, mostly using the Zoom app, from my home every day. Earlier I could physically visit only one or two groups a day. I don’t have to worry about traffic or finding a parking slot.” The vicar said that in the current scenario, he was able to give pastoral care using the online method.
“I have also found that people are serious at these online meetings, attending them prayerfully, with entire families taking part from the comfort of their homes. We are beginning to see the home as a church.”
The services during the Holy Week beginning on Palm Sunday and ending with Easter will be telecast live from the church headquarters in Tiruvalla, Kerala, for the global congregation.
Johnson George, administration manager at Holy Trinity Church, said the regular worship services were being beamed live to members of the church who could log in to the app being used. “Attendance has been good and we are happy with the participation of the congregation.”
The abundance of prayer meetings and worship services also mean that people can log in to the meeting of their choice or use multiple channels to enrich their spiritual lives. While messages of hope and encouragement in this time of crisis are being shared on WhatsApp groups, other channels that are popular are Zoom video application, Facebook Live stream and YouTube.
Range of apps available
With a wide range of apps and technology available, churches can choose the best depending on convenience and ease of use.
Babuji George, a senior member of the St Thomas Orthodox Cathedral, Dubai, said regular worship services are beamed live on Friday and Sunday morning using a dedicated app of the church which is viewed by more than 850 people. “Special prayers and Lent services are also streamed live on the church website,” he said.
While some may miss the regular time of fellowship in church, others feel that technology has helped a larger audience come together.
The older folk, who would find it difficult to attend church every week, can now attend the service from home.
Claudia Bennett from the Amazing Grace Ministries that worships in St. Martin’s Church, Sharjah, tunes in to a Facebook live stream to worship every Friday, which is led by the pastor from his home. “I don’t see any major difference, except that I miss the fellowship in church. In fact, a larger audience can be reached now. The older folk, who would find it difficult to attend church every week, can now attend the service from home.”
Johnson Samuel from the Mar Thoma Church said: “In an ideal world, I would like to meet people and fellowship with them. But under the current scenario, we are making good use of technology. Earlier I would attend many church meetings alone, but now my family can take part too. I have found that online prayer meetings are effective and convenient.”
Children, too, attend Bible classes regularly. “While there were always a few children who could not attend classes earlier due to transport issues or extra classes in school, we now find that they are regular with online Bible classes. This is a positive step,” Samuel said.
Muslims can pray anywhere
Meanwhile, all Muslims are required to pray five times a day every day but it is not mandatory for them to perform prayers at the mosque, according to scholars.
However, some scholars say that it is more rewarding in Islam to pray in congregation in mosques. Muslims ensure that they go to the mosque for Friday prayers, which are longer than usual prayers and include a sermon. Salah or prayer is obligatory for Muslims and it is the second of the five pillars of Islamic faith.
As all worship places are closed in the UAE to prevent the spread of coronavirus, many non-Muslims including Christians and Hindus have resorted to online or virtual prayers.
However, for Muslims do not have to follow the online or virtual methods to offer their prayers because they are allowed to pray from anywhere including their homes, offices, parks, etc. Muslims can offer prayers from anywhere apart from certain areas such as rubbish dumps, bathrooms or graveyards
Muslims are normally required to attend Friday prayers in the mosques as long as they not travelling. They also have the option of praying even the Friday (Jumma) prayers at home in case of emergencies or natural disasters.
They can pray alone or in congregations outside the mosques as well. Even members of a family including father, mother and children can pray in a congregation at home or they can opt to pray individually.
However, prayers in a congregation is strongly encouraged because it strengthens ties within the local community.