The Anglican Church in Qatar has begun construction on a new center that will provide a place for prayer and worship for many Anglican, Protestant and Evangelical congregations in Doha.
The Rt. Rev. Michael Lewis, Anglican Bishop in Cyprus and the Gulf, visited the site on September 28 to lead prayers for the successful completion of the project, for the safety of the workers, and to offer "special thanksgiving to God for his mercy and compassion to all people living in Qatar," a recent news release from the Anglican Church in Qatar said.
The service was attended by diplomats, representatives of the Catholic, Orthodox, and Oriental churches, and leaders of many Evangelical Christian fellowship groups in Doha.
The project is being undertaken in three stages and it is hoped that the first stage -- initially providing up to four spaces for Christian groups to worship simultaneously -- will be completed within 15 months. The second stage of the project will include a main sanctuary, which will provide space for larger Christian groups to gather. The third stage will offer additional rooms for groups of various sizes to gather for prayer and worship.
Qatar's ruler and Emir, Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa Al-Thani, granted permission and donated land for Christians to build churches in the Arab emirate about five years ago. "There have not been church buildings in this area since the coming of Islam 1400 years ago," said the Rev. Bill Schwartz, rector of Church of the Epiphany in Doha and an appointed missionary who has served in the Diocese of Cyprus and the Gulf (Province of Jerusalem and the Middle East) for more than 30 years.
"We offer our sincere thanks to His Highness The Emir and to the Ministries of Foreign Affairs and the Interior for their sustained help and support with this project," said Schwartz, speaking at the site on September 28. "We hope that the eventual completion of the Anglican center will offer a place of prayer for the many Christians who worship in small groups in different places all around Doha. We also hope to see opportunities in the future to encourage increased dialogue among Christians and people of other religions. We trust that God will be pleased to receive the prayers of all people from this place and will continue to bless praying people in Qatar with His grace and peace for the years to come."
Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams has previously voiced his support for the project and asked congregations around the Anglican Communion "to take seriously the challenge offered by the Qatar center."
Schwartz sees this development as an important opportunity to adjust negative stereotypes about Islam, and deepen the relations between Muslims and Christians in various Middle Eastern countries. "We should not diminish real aspects of marginalization and persecution in some places in this region, but at the same time we should celebrate and commend courageous Islamic leadership when it makes concrete efforts to promote freedom of religion for non-Muslims," he said.