End of an era for Jebel Ali Anglican church
DUBAI // Christmas will be a bitter-sweet affair for Reverend Canon Stephen Wright as the Anglican chaplain draws the curtain on more than a decade of service to worshippers at Christ Church Jebel Ali.
For 11 years Rev Wright, who is married with three children, has overseen a multinational congregation.
“Our congregation ends up being quite multinational. Some of them come because it’s English language. There is a family from Madagascar that comes here because there’s no French service for their children, whereas if you were a Malayalam-language worshipper, everyone [in attendance would be] Indian.
“It doesn’t matter what denomination or sect you’re in, in our congregation we have people from all different groups.”
Having spent so long in the UAE, and with his children all grown up and having left home, Rev Wright and his wife decided it was time for a fresh challenge.
“For the past 11 years, we have spent almost every Christmas in Dubai. All the children have left, the last one has left for college, and that is partly why [my wife and I] want to move on. We’ve reached a stage in our lives thinking about the future. We’ve really enjoyed it here, but I want a new challenge.
“But I am sad to be leaving my people, these people here are my family.”
Shanika Peiras has attended Sunday mass every year for the past 12 years. Although not Anglican herself, she began visiting the church with her late husband.
“My husband passed away two years ago, and he was Anglican,” said Ms Peiras, who has been living in Dubai for 22 years. “We were one of the earliest in the congregation when we moved to Jebel Ali, and I still come here every Sunday.”
Attendance at the Anglican church for Friday sermons is about 150 to 180 worshippers.
Gautam Kanjilal, from India, said Rev Wright gave a “rejuvenating sermon every week”.
“You have to feel for a particular church, and my family and I went to different churches before, but we have been coming to Christ Church for six years,” he said. “We have always felt comfortable practising our faith in the UAE, a Muslim country, which seems to be more secular than other countries. Even Dubai Duty Free was playing Christmas carols.”
His wife, Christine, agreed. She said her mother, who was visiting Dubai for the first time, was pleasantly surprised with the country’s Christmas spirit.
“We went to Dubai Mall, and there was this entire Christmas winter wonderland, and my mother just thought it was fantastic for a Muslim country,” she said.
Ms Kanjilal said that her 11-year-old daughter, Sunayana, enjoyed the way Rev Wright made religion so accessible to children.
“On Friday mornings, the little ones would dash to the front in the middle of the service, and Stephen would sit on the step and ask them a question, which the children, in a unique way, would answer. His question hinged on what the message for that morning was, and it’s really amazing [how the children interact],” she said.
Updated: December 25, 2014 04:00 AM