Mystery Worshipper: Meet and Right So to Do
Church: Holy Trinity
Location: Dubai, United Arab Emirates
Date of visit: Sunday, 28 August 2016, 8:00am
Tucked away off a boulevard, the modern-style church sits in the middle of a compound that is also used by other Protestant congregations. The building itself is pretty typical of churches built in the 1960s and 1970s. One cannot help but notice two tall conical protrusions somewhat resembling a bishop's mitre. The interior, which looked octagonal to my eyes, is pretty basic with white unadorned walls and blonde wooden bench-style pews oriented toward the chancel. The chancel, which is elevated above the nave by two steps, features a stone altar with a versus populum orientation. On the liturgical south end of the chancel is a simple wooden podium that doubles as the pulpit and the epistle lectern. There are small windows throughout the nave that have modest stained glass that might actually be imitation acrylic glass.
As one of two Anglican churches in Dubai, the congregation of Holy Trinity are quite diverse. The congregants are primarily expats. Besides Holy Trinity itself, dozens of other Protestant sects use the facilities. Some 19 other services are offered in English alone. There is a children's group, a youth ministry called Pathfinders, a ladies' group, and a full schedule of fellowship events. They also are active in their support of charities around the world. Holy communion is celebrated on Sunday mornings and evenings, but their principal services take place on Fridays in keeping with tradition in the Muslim world: holy communion, junior church, and youth group meetings.
Holy Trinity sits in Dubai's Oud Metha section, which is about ten minutes by car from the business district and the Burj Khalifa the world's tallest building (for the moment, anyway). The diversity of the area is on full display, as a Pakistani private school sits directly across from an Indian school. One can only imagine how interesting that neighborhood dynamic could get at times. Also nearby is St Mary's, the Roman Catholic parish church.
The Revd Moses Jeyakumar, associate chaplain, presided, wearing a white cassock underneath a white surplice and simple green stole. I couldn't tell if he was wearing a collar or not. This was one of Father Moses' last services at Trinity, as a new chaplain has been called who will assume his duties on 1 September.
What was the name of the service?Holy Communion
How full was the building?
Including myself, there were six congregants scattered across a nave that could easily accommodate perhaps 250. However, as noted above, this was not the parish's principal weekly service.
Did anyone welcome you personally?
As I was unsure of the traveling time to Holy Trinity, I arrived way too early about 30 minutes before the stated time. There was no usher for this service. During the exchange of the peace, everyone shook everyone else's hand. Afterward, I was asked by the associate chaplain and one other congregant if I was visiting. Other than that, this seemed to be a worship-and-go service.
Was your pew comfortable?
As comfortable as benches with no padding could be. Thankfully, there was plenty of legroom as there were no kneelers.
How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
Extremely quiet, with music playing of the variety you hear on an evangelical Christian radio station. Not my cup of tea, but to each his own.
What were the exact opening words of the service?
"In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen."
What books did the congregation use during the service?
There were no prayer books or hymnals in the pews. A simple leaflet at the entryway contained the order of service for each of Holy Trinity's three services. The liturgy was familiar to anyone who has worshipped using the Church of England's Common Worship or the Episcopal Church's Rite II liturgy in the 1979 Book of Common Prayer. The Holy Bible, New Revised Standard Version, Anglicized Edition, was used for readings and the psalm.
What musical instruments were played?
This was a said service, despite the leaflet indicating otherwise.
Did anything distract you?
The emptiness of the church.
Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
Pretty standard Anglican worship in contemporary language, although the traditional language Lord Prayer's and prayer of humble access were used. It would be interesting to see the churchmanship of Holy Trinity's primary service, which is at 9.30am on Fridays.
Exactly how long was the sermon?
On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
7 – My overall impression was that it was a little too early on a Sunday morning in Dubai for the associate chaplain to be preaching (or for us to be listening).
In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
It was about how Jesus used meals as an opportunity to teach. To paraphrase, we need to humble ourselves before his table.
Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
The diversity of the albeit small congregation: two Asian women, one African lady, two Pakistanis or Indians (I couldn't exactly tell) and myself, the Anglo.
And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
I couldn't help but wonder why there weren't more congregants in the pews, although the quick, almost transactional nature of this stripped-down early morning service would make it difficult to get out of bed.
What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
Everyone departed after the blessing and made their way home or to work.
How would you describe the after-service coffee?
There was none, but I quickly made my way back to the hotel for a much-needed double espresso. (Yes, it was a little too early!)
How would you feel about making another visit (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
5 – There aren't many options for an Anglican in Dubai, so I would want to see what the other services were like. But there just wasn't any sense of a community at the eight o'clock.
Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
I suppose so.
What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time ?
A Sunday service that was in reality, at least here in Dubai culture, the equivalent of a Tuesday morning service in the Western world.