Coronavirus: Abu Dhabi worshippers leave messages of hope on closed church gates

A prayer wall at St Andrew's Church makes for heart-warming reading, as religious leaders look to bring in virtual services

Thousands of people usually flood into what is colloquially known as the Churches Area of Mushrif in Abu Dhabi every weekend for religious services.

But with mosques, temples and churches closed and public prayers suspended for four weeks due to the coronavirus outbreak, worshippers have started to find new ways to practice their faith.

Rev Canon Andy Thompson, senior chaplain at St Andrew’s Church in Abu Dhabi, said that when churches closed his team began to think about ways the “community could be together without actually being together”.

As well as regular messaging on social media and looking into ways to stream services online, Mr Thompson said that St Andrew’s had set up a prayer wall on the compound’s fence and its temporarily shuttered gates.

“We wanted to create a physical focus point around which people could express themselves,” he said.

“It needed to be something that conveyed a sense of belonging but without a group actually being there.”

The church’s prayer wall, a collection of messages handwritten on manila-coloured mail tags by passers-by and fixed to the compound gates, has provided the answer to that question over the past couple of days.

Around 50 messages fluttered in the breeze outside the gates of St Andrew’s on Thursday morning.

Some of those tags expressed broad wishes for the future, “please eradicate Covid-19” said one, while others addressed community concerns: “I pray that there will be an end to this soon. May the jobs be protected. Families be safe”.

Others expressed solidarity with those working in healthcare, for local businesses and for “the elderly, the vulnerable and anyone who is lonely”.

Mr Thompson said: “The prayer wall has become a focus, in which people passing by the church can express their concerns to God in these unusual times.

“It is both a reminder and an invitation that there is someone bigger than ourselves to whom we can turn to as a source of comfort and strength.”

I pray that there will be an end to this soon. May the jobs be protected. Families be safe

St Andrew’s Church compound sits in a normally bustling part of the city, sandwiched between The British School Al Khubairat and the Mary the Mother of Jesus Mosque and only a short distance from several other places of worship, including St Joseph’s Catholic Cathedral and St Antony’s Coptic Orthodox Church.

The nation’s schools, which have been shut for a fortnight as part of a broad series of measures designed to contain the spread of coronavirus, will begin a period of distance learning on Sunday. Churches and mosques are not expected to reopen before April 13.

More than 215,000 cases of Covid-19 have been diagnosed worldwide and more than 8,000 people have died since the global pandemic began. In the UAE, more than 100 cases have so far been identified.