To celebrate fifteen years since the consecration of Christ Church in Jebel Ali, to the southwest of Dubai, the Rev’d Tim Heaney and chaplaincy staff made a 240k round-trip, visiting several other Anglican churches.
Revd Tim is responsible for a Chaplaincy that covers six of the seven Emirates in the United Arab Emirates. (Abu Dhabi in the south is a separate Chaplaincy). There are four Church buildings and a total of six congregations (as two congregations meet in alternative buildings).
Christ Church was consecrated in March 2002; the congregation was small at first - Jebel Ali was in the middle of the desert, far from everywhere except Jebel Ali Village itself, but has since grown. There were official celebrations marking the anniversary but Revd Tim said the idea for the road trip came about as “we decided we wanted to do something a little bit different on the anniversary day itself.” The journey began at Christ Church and snaked its way northwards, taking in Holy Trinity, Dubai, the oldest building in the chaplaincy (1970) and St Luke's Ras Al Khaimah, the newest (2012).
Revd Tim: It’s always good for individual churches to remember they are part of the wider church but being part of a Chaplaincy spread over such a large area means it’s hard to feel connected even to our directly connected sister churches. It’s a bit easier for the staff than for the congregation but I discovered that three of our staff (including one who’s been with us for years) had never been to our churches outside Dubai and had not met some of the newer staff there.
The day of our fifteenth anniversary itself (March 8th) therefore seemed like a good opportunity to do something which reminded the churches in our Chaplaincy of our interconnectedness and helped the Staff and clergy at Christ Church look outwards and to thank in person those who support us and indeed had made our existence as a church possible. It was also my opportunity to give my staff what I hoped would be a fun day out as a thank you to them.
There are six of us (and we are also six different nationalities which reflects the diversity of the UAE and our churches) but fortunately we have a car big enough for us all so it felt like a proper road trip.
We are the Southern most Church in our chaplaincy (almost on the border with Abu Dhabi) so after we had gathered there we headed north to Holy Trinity in the older part of Dubai. The drive there was mostly on the Sheik Zayed Road – a 12 lane highway which takes you through the heart of modern Dubai where bounded by multiple skyscrapers feels like driving through a huge concrete canyon, in stark contrast to the deserts we would be crossing later in the day!
Holy Trinity gave us a late breakfast and a tour of the recent (and not quite complete) renovations and after a group photo of the two sets of staff we headed North again - out of Dubai and into the next Emirate. Although still built up Sharjah has a very different feel to Dubai and our church there also has its own personality whilst sharing much with us also. Another tour (including the major extension completed in 2014 and the small military graveyard from when there was a British base here) followed by lunch and a group photo before heading North again. Passing through the two smallest Emirates (where we do not have churches at the moment) and on into Ras Al Khaimah we also entered the desert proper and were able to admire the dunes and occasional camel instead of the architecture.
St Luke’s is in an industrial area outside RAK City so is surrounded by factories and then by desert – a striking contrast. It is also (as at Jebel Ali and Sharjah) surrounded by other churches for when the authorities in each place generously gave us land (for which we are very grateful) they tend to give it all in the same place. Our final tour of the day, afternoon tea and cake, photos and back on the road – southwards for the first time and the long drive home.
Our 240km anniversary tour round the churches of our Chaplaincy seems to have achieved what we set out to do. It happened that every member of staff was on duty that day so we got to meet them all and the news of the tour has encouraged many more people to think about our need for unity within our diversity. It has reminded us of all the God has done through the Anglican Church in these Northern emirates and of course for us at Christ Church it was also simply a “Grand Day Out”!