‘Guardian angel’ Indian Protestant church opens in Abu Dhabi

First service on Sunday come two months after opening of Baps Hindu temple

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A long-awaited Protestant church to serve the UAE's South Indian community opened its doors for its first service on Sunday.

The Church of South India in Abu Dhabi has been hailed as a "dream" for parishioners, who have grown steadily in number from 50 people in 1979 to more than 5,000 nationwide today.

The expansive winged exterior of the church welcomed a 750-strong congregation at the weekend before sharing its vision for tolerance and harmony with people of all faiths.

In Abu Dhabi, worshippers have for years met at St Andrew’s Church where they book weekly prayer sessions.

It is a momentous time for us
Reverend Lalji M Philip

The new octagon-shaped structure, located in the capital’s Abu Mureikha area near the Baps Hindu temple, gives them space for their own place of worship.

“The design is a guardian angel theme and shows the protection and love provided by God to all,” Reverend Lalji M Philip, the vicar of the CSI parish, told The National.

“We stand with the message of the UAE of tolerance to all and after Sunday the church will be open to all faiths and religions to pray and visit.”

Sunday ceremony

A soft opening took place on Sunday with a three-hour dedication ceremony and service in which vicars of several sister churches anticipated.

The service was led by Bishop Malayil Sabu Cherian and the prayers began outside the church.

The dedication was be followed by a thanksgiving meeting for which representatives from other faiths including the neighbouring Baps temple and representatives of Abu Dhabi’s Department of Community Development were invited.

Ready for opening

All the work on the interior beech wood and stained glass were done in workshops in Abu Dhabi.

“Those who visit the church can get a glimpse of the Old and New Testament in the stained glass windows,” Rev Philip said.

“It shows how Jesus is with us in every situation and how we can face difficult situations with prayer.”

The building has a balcony section that overlooks the main prayer area on the ground level with crystal chandeliers decorating the central spaces.

While the community is small in the Emirates, in India it is the second-biggest church group after the Roman Catholic church.

Similar to the arrangement in Abu Dhabi, in emirates such as Dubai, Al Ain and Ras Al Khaimah, the parishioners share facilities with other churches.

The Church of South India parishioners are mainly from southern India’s Kerala state and the church has worshippers drawn from other states such as Tamil Nadu, Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh.

Construction on the Dh11m structure took about four years with delays due to the coronavirus pandemic and infrastructure approvals.

“We are like one big family and we participate in all activities together,” said Joseph Jebu, a founding member who took part in the first 1979 service when people gathered at St Andrew’s Church that was then located in the Corniche.

The 68-year-old finance professional returned to Kerala last year and has come back to Abu Dhabi to be part of the inaugural service.

“It is really a dream come true for us to have this church,” he said.

“This is a place for all of us to be together like a family.”

Land for the church was granted by President Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed, then the Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of the Armed Forces.

The church is the second place of worship inaugurated after the Baps Hindu temple opened in February.

“As the name suggests we are proud to be part of a district where different faiths will meet at one point,” said Rev Philip.

“You have a Christian Protestant church from India and a Hindu temple at the same place – people can first-hand experience the message of the UAE when they visit here.”

Updated: April 28, 2024, 6:15 PM