Holy Trinity, Manhattan, Explores Christianity in the Arabian Gulf
During Epiphany, Holy Trinity, Manhattan, devoted three Sundays to exploring Christianity in the Arabian Gulf. Using the Anglican Diocese of Cyprus and the Gulf as a starting point, Helen Goodkin shared her knowledge of the 14 congregations in the 10 countries in the Gulf where Christianity is thriving. Because countries such as Qatar and Dubai rely heavily on guest workers, many of whom are Christians, the Anglican church often becomes the “shepherd” to a very diverse group of Christian congregations. In Qatar, for example, the religious center in Doha (managed by the Anglican congregation there) hosts over 14,000 worshipers on Friday, the day of worship. From 6 a.m. to 10 at night, worship spaces of varying sizes are “rented” for two to three hours at a time by congregations, allowing Christians to worship according to their own traditions and in their own languages. Because Indians remove their shoes to worship, the halls are strewn with sandals, boots, sneakers; and because Evangelical and Pentecostal faiths practice baptism by immersion, this Anglican facility features a baptismal pool. A similar congregation, the Church of the Holy Trinity in Dubai, hosts as many as 20,000 worshipers on a Friday.
The second week of study focused on Iraq, where St. George’s, Baghdad, is a thriving congregation with a medical clinic and a tuition-friendly school welcoming students from all religious communities. From there, the Rev. Christopher Bishop “zoomed” in to discuss his work with Christians in northern Iraq who were driven from their homes in the middle of the night by ISIS. Chris founded an organization called Stand With Iraqi Christians (SWIC) which has helped to revitalize a traditional occupation of Christians in the area—chicken farming. To date, funded in part by a Sustainable Development Goals Fund Grant from the Diocese of New York, SWIC has “re-birthed” 20 farms through grants to farmers so that chicken coops may be rebuilt, and feed, clean water, veterinary services, and an initial flock of chickens may be purchased. Chicks go to market in about 55 days, at which time the farmers use the profits to buy another flock. So far, all farms are successful and self-sustaining, and SWIC has plans to expand to additional farms. In addition to helping individual farmers, the program has created countless jobs and provided a much-needed source of protein to the food supply.
The final week, the Rev. John Beddingfield, rector of Holy Trinity, furthered the conversation through a video discussing the ancient roots of the Christian community in Iraq which is thought to have been begun by St. Thomas around 50 CE. The most moving segment was an interview with a young woman studying to become a dentist, who at 14 fled from her home in the middle of the night when ISIS soldiers told the family that they could convert, flee, or be killed. Despite the terror and the loss, the young woman has not lost her faith and remains devoted to her Christian community which is struggling to rebuild.
As Archbishop Michael Lewis, president bishop and primate of the Province of Jerusalem and the Middle East explains, the role of the Anglican church in this part of the world is one of presence, of faithful witness and inclusion, and of service to God through service to the community. That service ranges from support for migrant Christians of every denomination living away from home, to the amazing work of SWIC and of Father Faiz at St. George’s in Iraq, and to the Ras Morbat eye clinic in Aden, which has struggled mightily throughout the civil war in Yemen to provide not only the eye care it was created for, but also now to treat injuries from the war working with Medécins Sans Frontières (Doctors Without Borders).
Holy Trinity’s members came away with a desire to learn more about how to help Christians, both longstanding residents of the Arabian Gulf area as well as those whose life journeys have taken them to new lands. We pray the Spirit will direct our path.