Construction of Abu Dhabi's new Church of South India begins

Residents describe Anglican church to open in 2021 as historic for their community

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Construction work has begun on a church in Abu Dhabi that will give thousands of people their own space to worship.

Workers are levelling the area and readying the foundation for the Church of South India in the Al Shahama area that will open for services by June next year.

The Anglican community has described the building as historic since it marks another landmark of religious freedom and tolerance in the country.

The earthy-toned, octagon shaped shrine will be open for people from all nationalities and faith.

This will be the largest church in the UAE for our community

"It is exciting moment for us and a historical event to find a space of our own" Reverend Sojee Vergis John told The National.

“This is a great event in our lives. We feel this land as our own. The Rulers have received us as if their own brothers by the gesture of giving us land and approvals. We feel privileged,”

The church is being built near the Hindu temple in the Al Rahba area off the Sheikh Zayed highway from Dubai to Abu Dhabi.

Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of the Armed Forces had granted 4.37 acres of land for the church.

A tall archway will welcome about 750 worshippers into the ground floor and a balcony that will stretch across one end of the structure.

Sunlight will light up the interior filtering through a central skylight.

The church building, structures for electricity, water services and a gate house will be built as part of the first phase to be completed next year.

Multi-purpose halls, areas for recreation and residential units for priests will be constructed in the second phase.

Once the new church complex is established, Reverend John said he hoped worshippers from Dubai would also join in prayers since it was a short 40-minute drive from Jebel Ali.

“This will be the largest church in the UAE for our community,” he said.

Construction has begun on a church in Abu Dhabi for the Anglican community. The Church of South India is being built on land allocated near a Hindu temple off the Dubai-Abu Dhabi Sheikh Zayed highway. Construction will be completed in June next year. Courtesy: Church of South India
The Church of South India is due to welcome parishoners from next June. Courtesy: Church of South India

The congregation has grown from 50 people in 1979 to 6,000 members across the UAE.

Apart from parishioners mainly from southern India’s Kerala state, the Church of South India has faithful from other states including Tamil Nadu, Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh.

The Abu Dhabi church will be the second shrine apart from a Fujairah church that can hold 100 people.

Followers in Dubai and other emirates pray in Anglican shrines.

In Abu Dhabi, parishioners currently meet at St Andrew’s Church where they have a weekly slot for prayer services.

They are among about 60 church communities who congregate at St Andrews.

By keeping the church doors open for different nationalities, they plan to pay this forward.

“For more than 40 years we have been using the facilities in St Andrews and we feel privileged to have our own place,” said Reverend John.

“We will definitely share our space with others who have no separate space for worship and welcome other communities to worship here.”

Services in Abu Dhabi churches and a few small parishes in Dubai opened in late July with limited numbers allowed entry after registration amid the coronavirus pandemic.

Most services continue online for parishioners.

About 70 per cent of the estimated Dh11 million cost has been raised from the community and the church hopes the remaining will be sourced from donations from well-wishers and companies.

Reji John, head of the church construction, said safety and social distancing protocols were being maintained on the site.

“Work on the parsonage buildings, play areas for children and multipurpose halls that could be used for weddings and other celebrations will be undertaken later,” he said.

“This is being built as a place of solace for everyone who visits. We hope this will be a symbol of tolerance, love and care for different nationalities, faith and cultures.”