Christians in Qatar celebrate formal opening of Anglican center

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The Anglican Centre in Qatar.

[Episcopal News Service] Christianity in Qatar was once an underground religion, but today it thrives, thanks in part to people like the Rev. Bill Schwartz, an Anglican priest and an Episcopal Church missionary.

The Christian community in the Islamic Middle Eastern state celebrated a pivotal moment Sept. 21 with the official opening of the Anglican Centre, in a complex known locally as Church City, in the country’s capital Doha.

At the heart of the center is the Church of the Epiphany, which was consecrated one week later on Sept. 28.

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The Rev. Bill Schwartz, an Anglican priest and an Episcopal Church missionary based in Qatar, delivers an address at the opening ceremony of the Anglican Centre in Doha. Photo: Ginger Camel

“We are all overjoyed to finally celebrate the consecration of our new church after five years of very hard work by many people,” said Schwartz, Epiphany’s rector, who has overseen the development of the Anglican Centre since before construction began in August 2008.

Managed by the Anglican Diocese of Cyprus and the Gulf, the center today is used by about 60 Evangelical, Pentecostal and Protestant congregations. At full capacity it can accommodate up to 15,000 worshipers on Fridays alone, and many more during the weekdays.

“Parking is a challenge to say the least,” Schwartz said during the center’s opening ceremony. But, he added, “the level of cooperation we are experiencing in the shared facility is very encouraging indeed … We are learning together as the broad spectrum of expatriate nationalities and Christian traditions to honor each other’s diversity.”

Interior stairwell of the Anglican Centre. Photo: Ginger Camel

Interior stairwell of the Anglican Centre. Photo: Ginger Camel

Until recently, Qatar was seen as a purely Islamic state, but as new leadership tapped vast natural gas resources, economic development exploded. The former Emir of Qatar, Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani, knowing that such development brings migrant labor and different faith traditions, provided the land for Church City.

“It was a challenge to build a church in a country with no history of church buildings, but everyone involved in the project gave the extra effort to ensure that the end result is an edifice that speaks of God’s glory and grace,” Schwartz told ENS following Epiphany’s Sept. 28 consecration ceremony.

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Church of the Epiphany, the Anglican congregation that is housed in the Anglican Centre, is consecrated on Sept. 28.

“I am pleased to speak on behalf of all those people and say that we give thanks to God for the way he has guided us through this process and we trust that the people who worship in the church 50 years from now will still see it as a place of blessing for many, many people for many, many years yet to come.”

Also participating in the consecration ceremony were Bishop Michael Lewis of Cyprus and the Gulf and his predecessor Bishop Clive Handford, who was president bishop of the Province of Jerusalem and the Middle East when the land for the Anglican Centre was donated in 2005.

Speaking on behalf of his congregation at Epiphany, Schwartz said, “We have been blessed for many years with generosity and cooperation regarding places to gather for worship, but after 15 years of worshiping in school gymnasiums it feels wonderful to have a cross above me rather than a basketball hoop.”

The former Emir of Qatar, Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani, and his successor and son Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani were among the guests attending the opening ceremony. Photo: Ginger Camel

Many esteemed guests were among those attending the opening ceremony. Photo: Ginger Camel

Many esteemed guests and Qatari dignitaries were among the several hundred who attended the Anglican Centre’s Sept. 21 opening ceremony.

Schwartz thanked Qatari leaders “for the continued welcome of Christians who have come to work here and build the economy of this country” and for the people of Qatar “who generously accept the principle that the large expatriate workforce in their country should be encouraged to follow their own religious heritage and traditions. We could not have completed this building project without kind assistance and cooperation of Qatari citizens in all walks of life…”

The leaders are widely supported for using Qatar’s national wealth for the good of the country’s people – for developing infrastructure, healthcare and education.

Qatar is ranked as the richest country in the world per capita, yet the vast majority of the Christians living in the country come from developing countries and work for low wages in the construction or service industry. Schwartz interacts with the government on their behalf.

Schwartz is widely respected for his ministry in Qatar and for his 40 years of service in the Middle East as a whole. It’s a ministry for which in 2007 he was named an Officer of the Order of the British Empire, an award bestowed on individuals by the British sovereign.

the Rev. Bill Schwartz meets with dignataries, including the Emir of Qatar, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani, before the opening ceremony of the Anglican Centre. Photo Ginger Camel

The Rev. Bill Schwartz meets with Qatari dignitaries before the opening ceremony of the Anglican Centre. Photo: Ginger Camel

Following the Anglican Centre’s success, Schwartz said that church leaders in other parts of the world are interested in using it as a model for “other urban centers where it is impractical for multi-ethnic Christian communities to afford separate buildings for worship.” A cooperative project like this, Schwartz added, meets the needs of many people.

“What we’re establishing, not only in the building but in our presence here, in our relationships, and in the image of Christianity that the local people have – is what will be the foundation for the relationships of Christians and Muslims in this country for the next 50 or 60 years,” Schwartz told ENS in 2011, when the center was just one third complete. “It’s a great privilege, it’s a great responsibility, but certainly we’re seeing God’s blessing and we’re all rejoicing.”

– Matthew Davies is an editor/reporter of the Episcopal News Service.

Comments

  1. Fr. Michael Neal says:

    Nice……………….blessings …………………………………:)

  2. Now the international Christians have a place from where they can press for religious liberty for Qataris — for whom Christianity is still an underground religion!! I hope this facility did not come at the cost of silence on religious freedom issues – or at the cost of appeasement with regards to witnessing to Qataris (as is usually the case in these situations). At every worship and prayer service it should be remembered that for Qataris, apostasy is haram. When Qataris worship Jesus Christ in secret, it is at risk to their life and liberty (no air-conditioned comfort for them). Do not forget them!!

    • Fr. George White says:

      Elizabeth, after decades in the Arabian Gulf and Middle East I can say with authority that one thing evangelical Christians often overlook is the longterm benefits of being diplomatic and prudent in favour of the short-term numbers game they play with converts, which rarely ends well. I invite you to visit and develop your understanding of the situation here.

  3. Father Les Singleton says:

    Keep us posted on how all of this plays out. Are there no EXTERNAL symbols on the building? I know some Mosques and Islamic Centers are in non-descript buildings. (and, I am glad they have a place to call home.) In Lake City, on US 90, on my way to the church camp, I see a Mosque clearly built to look like a Mosque.
    I hope we are at a better spot than the book “Animal House” where all animals are equal… and some are more equal than others.

  4. Dear Fr. White, my experience with evangelical Christians is that they are far too often far too willing to betray the persecuted locals for the sake of ‘quiet diplomacy’ that never ends well. I have seen this all over the world: acquiescence is purchased at the cost of (say) a radio station, a Bible college, a church facility. The gifts/rights are not free — a deal/agreement/covenant is brokered — the Christians recipients must pay for these liberties/gifts with positive PR and propaganda, and with promises not to ‘proselytise’ the locals. This happens all over the non-free world. I’ve seen it from Bethlehem to Beijing and Hanoi. In my experience, the long term benefits seem to evaporate over time, while the repressed and persecuted remain repressed and persecuted and those who should be helping them remain essentially enslaved to the regime. I am all for being wise as serpents and innocent as doves. I am all for being diplomatic and sensitive and gracious and patient. But I am also very wary of agreements that God might prefer to call ‘covenants with death’ (Isaiah 28). The facility is great – but it is not a sign of religious liberty. I fear it may be exactly the opposite — a sign the regime has worked out how to keep international Christians away from Qataris. This is a church for foreigners. Are foreigners free to worship elsewhere? Or is their worship now totally controlled, contained and monitored? I pray this facility will truly become a house of prayer for ALL nations – Arabs included. May the Holy Spirit use this facility to bring the gospel to Qataris in ways never imagined.

    • Fay Gotting says:

      Elizabeth, Fr. white is correct. Please note that Qatar is a Mulsim country, we as guests must remember that.

  5. Fay Gotting says:

    Christianity was never underground in Qatar. Ever since the days when Christian American Missionaries helped the Ruler Sh. Ali to build the first hospital in Qatar he allowed them to read the Bible to the patients and to have their religious services in homes and the Nursing Sisters mess in the Rumailah Hopsital Compound. The only objections came from local people because there were too many cars parked in front of their houses. Ref: Arabia Calling the American Missionaries monthly magazine.

  6. Fr. George White says:

    Elizabeth,
    “…the long term benefits seem to evaporate over time…” That is exactly the difference between the work of the Anglican Church in the region and the work of the evangelical groups. The Anglican Church was here long before and will be here long after the evangelicals have notched their belts and moved on, and the Anglican Church in the region will continue to pick up the pieces for the converts left behind who face repression and persecution. You seem have made the common mistake that American evangelicals make which is to forget that Christianity started in this part of the world, Arabs were Christians long before they were Muslims, and there are many Arab Christians who are part of the congregations who worship in this centre. As for the others, thank goodness for people involved in this project who know better than to acknowledge and discuss them, that doesn’t mean they are excluded and ignored, and thank goodness that those who don’t get it are far away.

  7. Fay Gotting says:

    Christianity has never been underground in Qatar.

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