UAE - Emotions ran high as the new facility of the Church of South India (CSI) Parish in Abu Dhabi held its inaugural public service on Sunday morning, May 5. The newly opened church welcomed a congregation of 750 members, and people of diverse faiths from the local community.

Rolling back years, old timers told Khaleej Times how more than 45 years ago on April 19, 1979, about a dozen CSI members took part in the first service at St Andrew’s Church on Corniche Road.

“This is an unbelievable feeling to be here in the new church. This is our own building, on the land gifted by the UAE President. I was part of the CSI congregation’s first service held in April 1979. I can't forget that day. We were 13 CSI members and about 75-80 faithful from other denominations attending that service at St Andrew’s Church. It’s been a long journey to this point,” Abraham Ninan, a long-time CSI member, recollected.

Back in 1979, the first CSI congregation service was led by Rt Rev T S Joseph, Bishop of Madhya Kerala diocese, in the presence of Rev M T Tharian, the first resident CSI Vicar of the UAE parishes, and the Late Rev M I Alexander, the then vicar of the Abu Dhabi Marthoma Parish.

“In the initial years, we gathered there for prayers every Thursday. We will remain thankful to Rev J H Henderson of St Andrew’s Church, who supported us,” Cherian Varghese, another old-time member, noted.

'Dream come true'

In succeeding years, the CSI Parish formed its choir group, Sunday School, and women’s fellowship. By 1984, St Andrew’s Church relocated to the Al Mushrif mainland area. CSI Parish also shifted its services to the new St Andrew’s Church. In 1990, the Parish got its first resident Vicar Rev K G Thomson.

Lalji M Philip, the current vicar of the Parish in Abu Dhabi, lauded the efforts of former vicars, members, and well-wishers to realise a long-cherished dream of having their own building to gather and offer prayers.

“We express our earnest and heartfelt gratitude to the reverent priests of St Andrew’s Church for accommodating us in their complex. It is a dream come true moment for our parishioners, who today number up to 750 worshippers in Abu Dhabi. This church will be a place of worship open to everyone,” Vicar Philip, who led the prayer ceremony, said.

It was on April 28 that the new facility was inaugurated with an invite-only soft-opening ceremony led by Rt Rev Dr Malayil Sabu Koshy Cherian, the Bishop of Madhya Kerala Diocese of the CSI.

“This facility, like St Andrew’s Church, will be open to congregations from different Christian traditions. The doors of this building will be open to community members of all faiths, irrespective of their religious or cultural differences. We wish to spread the message of love, peace, and harmony, and promote inter-faith dialogue,” said Bishop Cherian, who followed the proceedings from CSI Parish, Sharjah.

Earlier, Bishop Cherian, along with long-time supporter and business tycoon M A Yusuffali, entrepreneur Ashish Koshy, and vicar Philip, met Sheikh Nahyan bin Mubarak Al Nahyan, Minister of Tolerance and Coexistence.

“We expressed our appreciation to the rulers for their constant support and guidance. We thank all our well-wishers who lend a helping hand,” Bishop Cherian said and highlighted that Yusuffali, LuLu Group’s chairman and managing director, had donated Dh500,000 for the construction of the church.

Bishop Cherian expressed the congregation’s gratitude towards Susheela George, founder of Merryland International School, who donated Dh1.5 million, and Saji Thomas, who played an instrumental role in realising this project.

George, the renowned educator, was felicitated during the inauguration ceremony.

“I pray for our nation, the UAE. Let thy divine glory shine upon our nation, especially on our leader Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan,” she said.

Biju John, a committee member, noted the gathering of the congregation at their own facility after a wait of 45 years has been an emotional moment.

“This day, like the one of April 19, 1979, and the inauguration ceremony, will always be close to the hearts of the followers. This church building is the fruit of prayers and perseverance of multiple generations.”

The church, built on 4.37 acres of land opposite the BAPS Hindu temple, is open to visitors from all faiths seven days a week. The service for CSI followers will be held every weekend in the morning hours.

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