Via Earned Media:
On Fridays, the Holy Trinity church compound in Dubai is abuzz with worshipers from early morning till after nightfall. Some 10 - 11 thousand members of more than 120 different Christian groups and congregations come here on the Emirates' weekly day of rest.
Services in more than a dozen tongues - including English and Arabic, but most of them South Asian such as Urdu, Tagalog, Tamil or Malayam - fill not only the main church from 6 am to 11 pm but the 25 other halls built around a central courtyard adorned with a Canterbury cross.
A vibrant church life may not be the first thing that comes to mind when thinking about the Gulf region, which is primarily Muslim. But in a way, the 3-4 million Christians in the region, almost all of whom came in search of work from around the globe, present a microcosm of Christianity and the challenges of church unity.
At the Holy Trinity compound the Christian testimony is one of diversity in worship, from the solemnity of song to happy clapping. As one services ends, worshippers quickly rearrange what was a sober Protestant worship facility into an Orthodox sanctuary with icons and incense. Glory to God is proclaimed throughout the day in a variety of liturgies.
In Dubai, as throughout the United Arab Emirates, Christians are free to practice their faith, but only within the limits of their church compounds or in the privacy of their homes. The foundation stone of Holy Trinity Church was laid in 1969 by Sheikh Rashid bin Said Al Maktoum, then ruler of Dubai, who had graciously granted the land to the Christians living in his sheikdom.
A chaplain was appointed to care for the spiritual welfare of the expatriate Christians living in Dubai, Sharjah and the northern Trucial States, as the state entity which preceded the UAE was called. The following year, Holy Trinity was dedicated as an inter-denominational church building.
The Chaplaincy of Dubai and Sharjah has strong ties to the Anglican tradition. But it also lives up to its inter-denominational vocation and "the Anglican emphasis on hospitality", as the current chaplain Rev. John Weir underlines, by accommodating more than a hundred congregations of other traditions in the Holy Trinity compound - be they Evangelical, Pentecostal or Orthodox.
Speaking from experience, this a very accurate description. The cacophony in the courtyard of worshippers coming and going through the Sabbath - from morning into night - is a wondrous sight to behold.
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