Anglican History in the Arabian Gulf

In the 7th Century Christianity in the Arabian peninsula diminished significantly after the proclamation of Islam. Christian tribes migrated north and east. For centuries Christians who were traders visited the areas to the west of the Arabian Gulf until the late 19th Century when Europeans and Americans established hospitals, schools, businesses and diplomatic missions, and migrant labour from Asia began to find employment in the Gulf States. In places like Kuwait, Bahrain and Oman, church buildings served these expatriate Christians, while in places like Saudi Arabia and Qatar Christians met in homes and schools for their prayers and religious meetings.

After the end of the colonial period, which coincided with the rapid expansion of the economies of most of the Gulf countries, labour migration increased dramatically. In most of the Gulf countries the Anglican Church was entrusted by the rulers to build centres of worship which would provide space for prayers and worship for Christians from many countries, languages, and differing Christian traditions. Similarly, the Anglican Church in Qatar has established a Church Centre which will accommodate Protestant Christians of many different nationalities, traditions and liturgical style.

Anglican History in Qatar

When expatriates came to Qatar to be employed in the oil industry in the 1930’s, many were Anglican Christians. There was a resident Anglican priest sponsored by the oil company from 1951-1962, but after that the congregation was served by clergy visiting from Iraq, then Bahrain, and also from Abu Dhabi. In more recent history there has been a resident priest in Qatar again since 1993. The Church of the Epiphany now has two priests resident in Qatar who provide leadership to the Anglican congregation as well as many other Protestant groups affiliated with the Anglican Centre.

The Anglican Centre, Doha

The Centre has been built with a view to maximizing space and accommodating as many Christian congregations as possible. We expect that the Centre will accommodate about 3,000 people at any time, and we will rotate many congregations in each worship space through the whole day of Friday each week, averaging a potential total of about 15,000 worshipers on the property each Friday. We also expect all of the worship spaces to be occupied every evening of the week, and that Women’s groups, Children’s activities and other events will occur during the weekdays.

Because each of the congregations who worship at the Anglican Centre have their own organizational structures, each congregation manages their own internal financial matters, their own methods of appointing leadership and maintaining their particular tradition and identity. Each of the congregations contribute separately to the overall costs of staffing, cleaning and other expenses of managing the centre. The costs are shared according to the size of the congregation and the amount of time they use the worship spaces. The Anglican Church in Qatar holds no particular authority over these congregations except an adoption of policies and procedures by mutual agreement, designed to facilitate so many groups sharing the space.

Edward Henderson

“The history of Anglican worship in Qatar began with visits to the oil field by Anglican chaplains of the Iraq Petroleum Company (the parent of QPC) from Iraq in the 1930s and 40s. The Company appointed the Revd K. T. Jenkins as the first resident chaplain in Qatar in April, 1951. He was succeeded by the Revd J. M. Howells (September 1958 to January 1962). There were in addition visits by other chaplains from Kirkuk. In 1959 and subsequent years Archbishop Campbell MacInnis, the Anglican Archbishop in Jerusalem in whose diocese Qatar lay visited Doha and Umm Said. His successors have kept this visiting a regular feature even since. In 1962 the Reverend Alun Morris was appointed Archdeacon of Eastern Arabia and the Gulf and began to establish the joint Anglican parish of Qatar and the Trucial States, and in 1963 the Revd Richard Matthews was appointed chaplain of the joint parish. Revd Matthews at first visited both parts of the parish regularly from Bahrain, then moved to Abu Dhabi and visited Qatar every month and sometimes more often.

In 1967 the Revd David Elliot was appointed as Anglican chaplain to the joint parish, living in Abu Dhabi and visiting Qatar regularly until he left in 1969. For a short interim chaplains from Bahrain visited Qatar. In 1970 the Venerable Ralph Lindley was installed as Archdeacon in Abu Dhabi and in turn continued monthly visits to Qatar until he left in May, 1978. He was followed by the Venerable Clive Handford as Archdeacon in the Gulf and chaplain to the joint parish of Abu Dhabi and Qatar.

Meanwhile the Province of Jerusalem and the Middle East had been divided in 1976 into four dioceses and the parish of Abu Dhabi and Qatar came under the Diocese of Cyprus and the Gulf. During all this period regular visits had been paid by the Archbishop in Jerusalem and these were continued by the Anglican Bishop of the new diocese, who from 1976 was resident in Cyprus.

In the earliest days services were held only in Umm Said and Dukhan. Later these were extended to Doha as the Christian population arrived from 1949 and began to grow. Lay readers licensed by the Anglican Bishops would hold services on days when chaplains could not be present.

It will be seen from this that the Anglican worship under the direction of the Archbishop in Jerusalem and later the Bishop in Cyprus and the Gulf has been continuous in Qatar since the late 1930s.”

Edward Henderson
HMB Ambassador to Qatar 1971-1974

Stephen Day

“In the early eighties, the Qatar economy was booming. British companies dominated commerce and the eight to nine thousand British expatriates made up the largest Western community. Not all had easy lives; many found daily life difficult, with little contact with Qatari people, and it was not surprising that rumours flourished. One of the more persistent stories was that the church, meaning the Church of England, was banned. This was blamed variously on the Ayatollah Khomeini, recently in power across the Gulf, on extremist Islam or on the neighboring Saudis.

From my own perspective as British Ambassador, nothing could have been further from the truth. Every Sunday Christians from a number of countries gathered in one of the British schools and once a month the vicar came down from Abu Dhabi to hold communion, conducting christenings and encourage his flock. “Ah”, said the rumour mill, “he has to enter in disguise”. Not true: his dog-collar was evident, though I doubt whether it signified a great deal to airport officials, and his passport gave his occupation as, equally mystifying “Clerk in Holy Orders”.

One December a period of mourning was declared throughout the Arab world and families were urged not to hold public weddings and festivals but send money instead to help earthquake victims in Yemen and the families of bereaved in Lebanon, devastated by Israeli invasion. Hotels cancelled all festivities and the Westerners concluded, quite wrongly, that Christmas had been targeted, a gesture to appease Iran. The Economist carried a full-page article reporting the upsurge of extremism in the Gulf, putting two and two together and making nine. The then Amir, Sheikh Khalifa, like his son today, attached great importance to his Islamic responsibilities towards the people of the book and he gave me a warm welcome when I called to discuss arrangements for the Christian celebration of our great festival. He could not resist a dig at Western priorities and said he was delighted I was calling to discuss worship, for once, and not the usual Western obsessions with liquor and women driving. Certainly we could – indeed should – hold Christian services, but he gave me a difficult time over little old men in red cloaks and white beards, reindeers and noisy parties. In which of our passages of scriptures did they appear? But there was only encouragement for the commemoration of Christ’s birth and the subsequent midnight service was so well attended that it filled the courtyard of the school, a glorious moonlit night and a triumphant chorus of the familiar anthems.

The thought occurred to me then, as it has so often since, that prejudice and division arise from misunderstanding, and where else are misconceptions so prevalent as between us and the world of Islam?

At the end of our stay in Doha, though we were indifferent church-goers, my wife and I were given a warm farewell from the church and a salver inscribed with a message from the friends we had made. Certainly there was no building, but that meant there were no problems of maintenance, re-building appeal, heating (or, rather, cooling) costs to worry about. It was a church in the purest sense and after thirty years traveling the world, in the course of which we worshipped in many buildings, large and small, grand and primitive, we look back on the church in Qatar with special affection.”

Stephen Day
HMB Ambassador to Qatar 1981-1984