Abu Dhabi - For the last five decades, this church complex located in Mushrif has been the spiritual home for thousands of Christians in the capital.
On any weekend, the packed St Andrew's Anglican Church in Abu Dhabi would offer a microcosm of the UAE's multicultural and multi-ethnic society.
For the last five decades, this church complex located in Mushrif has been the spiritual home for thousands of Christians in the capital.
More than 50 congregations catering to different nationalities, including Ethiopians, Koreans, Pakistanis, Indians, Nepalese and western expats, all gather for prayers at this church complex, that is celebrating its 50th anniversary next week.
For many old timers in Abu Dhabi, the church has been very much part of their existence.
A British expat woman, who moved to the UAE in the 1980s, said one of her children took his first steps in the aisle of St Andrew's Church.
"I first went to the church, which was on the corniche. When the new church opened in Mushrif in 1984, I had just become a mother for the first time, and I started to go to the Sunday morning service, which was specifically for mums and kids. Some of the people I met were to become lifelong friends," said the expat in her 60s, who did not want to reveal her name.
Sabu Mathew, a Keralite businessman who has lived in Abu Dhabi for the last 28 years, said the church at that time bound the community together.
"Every Friday morning, people used to share taxis to go to church as there was no public bus service. Even at that time, there were many different nationalities, who used the church for prayers. Today it has become crowded," said Mathew.
Rev. Andrew Thompson, senior chaplin, said: "We are planning to plant a tree to pay respect to the late Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan, Father of the Nation, who donated the first plot on the corniche for the church, on the 50th anniversary."
The church is also bringing out a book Celebrating Tolerance - Religious minorities in the UAE to mark the 50th anniversary of its existence in the UAE.
St Andrews Church was first established in 1968 on the corniche to mainly cater to the British expats, who were working for the oil companies in Abu Dhabi.
"It moved to the new location in Mushrif in 1980. Over the years, the church has grown exponentially in terms of the number of people using it and its facilities," said Rev Thompson. "The church also builds bridges between the Christian and Muslim communities by facilitating inter-faith dialogue between people."
He said the patronage the church and other religious institutions in the UAE enjoy from the country's leaders is true testimony to the tolerance and inter-faith harmony promoted by the UAE.