Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 26 November 2020

CORONAVIRUS

Worshippers book online and swipe IDs on entry as UAE's churches reopen doors

Restricted numbers and staggered services are necessary to reopen

The faithful are flocking back to churches in Abu Dhabi and Ras Al Khaimah, with only a limited number of worshippers permitted entry.

Catholic and Anglican churches have opened their doors after implementing a host of safety measures, from removing prayer books in the main worship area to restrictions of two people per pew.

Among the churches open in Abu Dhabi are St Joseph’s, St Andrew’s and in Ras Al Khaimah, St Anthony and St Luke Church.

About 10 to 80 people arrive for each mass and are seated in clearly marked out spaces.

Numbers are capped at 30 per cent of capacity.

It is good to see life breathed back into our buildings

Father Kent Middleton, St Luke Anglican Church, Ras Al Khaimah

At St Joseph’s Catholic and St Andrew’s Anglican churches in Abu Dhabi, worshippers must first register online to reserve a spot.

They enter Emirates ID details while booking and are encouraged to download the government's Al Hosn tracing app.

Once they receive an email confirming their booking, they can attend mass.

Children under the age of 12 and the elderly are not allowed.

Two to five singers sing during mass in some gatherings while at others recorded music has replaced the choir.

Between each service, workers in protective overalls and face shields spray sanitising mist across the church.

Mosques, temples and churches were closed on March 16 across the country to slow the spread of the coronavirus.

Several places of worship reopened in early July but churches reopened later as they awaited clarity about receiving the communion.

Catholic churches in Dubai remain shut since it would be difficult to manage tens of thousands who congregate each day. Some services at St Mary's had 7,000 people at any one time.

A few smaller Anglican and Orthodox parishes in Dubai have reopened with limited numbers in the Oud Metha area.

Rev Andy Thompson, senior chaplain at St Andrew’s Church in Abu Dhabi, said safety is continually monitored with parishioners asked to also wear gloves.

“We are happy and excited to be back together with our church family. We have missed worshiping as a community,” he told The National about services that began on August 14.

Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, August 25, 2020. Social distancing and other Covid-19 measures are adhered to at the St. Joseph's Catholic Church in Abu Dhabi. -- A sanitation worker fumigates the prayer hall after the mass. Victor Besa /The National Section: NA Reporter: Ramola Talwar
A sanitation worker disinfects the prayer hall after mass at St Joseph's Catholic Church in Abu Dhabi. Victor Besa / The National

“The biggest change is the absence of children. They bring an energy to the church that is noticeably missing. We look forward to a time when families can come back to the church with young children.”

Live streaming continues for those who cannot join the prayers on Friday and Sunday.

About 60 church communities meet at St Andrews, including the Church of South India.

The first service for the community was held last weekend, August 21, during which about 80 Protestant worshippers were handed small cups for the communion.

“Traditionally we use a large chalice. Now each person is given an individual cup with the bread and people come one by one for the communion. Before about 20 people would kneel at the altar,” said Rev Sojee Vergis John.

John E John, director of communication at the Apostolic Vicariate of Southern Arabia, said safety guidelines were thoroughly evaluated before the re-opening.

“Safety and vigilance remains our priority. Given the large number of parishioners in Dubai, after evaluating the feasibility of fulfilling all safety precautions, the time it takes to get everyone safely in and out, the church has decided to defer re-opening at the moment.

"We are all one big community, one big family here in the UAE. We pray for this city, this country, all those working on the frontlines, and all those who are in pain."

Three daily services are capped at 80 people with eight mass services on Fridays spread over two churches in the Mushrif compound.

“People need to book online to choose their preferred mass timing and will receive a text message or email confirmation that they have to present at the gate to be allowed entry,” Mr John said.

In Ras Al Khaimah, Fr Kent Middleton has been welcoming worshippers at St Luke Anglican Church since July 19.

The church is not yet open for worship for the regular Friday service and instead hosts two services during the week.

“It is good to see life breathed back into our buildings,” Fr Middleton said.

“We have had a slow and gradual start because a lot of people are hesitant to be part of a gathering even if it socially distanced. I respect and understand it. We are glad they are being cautious. But it is good to have people praying together.”

Updated: August 26, 2020 01:11 PM

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