All the world

Christmas 2014 28 nationalities took part in the sermonWe had a lovely Christmas service last night and this morning. This morning, in the end we had 26 nationalities brave enough to stand up front and make a ‘Christmas Card’ (Our Sri Lankans and Malagasy were too shy – wondering what I might get them all to do once up front! Can’t think why. 😉 ) Each nationality could choose who they would be so our line up included a midwife and nurse, a security guard for the Inn, and a number of other interesting folk besides Mary and Joseph and four Wise men. Our Indonesian, Pakistani, and Zimbabwean families were all away so that would have made it even more but we still had every continent. Ours is not exactly an ‘English’ church and it’s going to be quite a change if we do end up in the UK next year!

Happy Christmas to all the world!

For those who missed our Christingle services in Academic City, we have another one on Sunday evening in Jebel Ali at 6pm :-)

Christmas previews underway

Nativity manger with really baby (800x533)When it comes, the Dubai Christmas warm up comes in a rush. Over the last week 6 carols services with one more to enjoy tonight. Then it’s over! Funny how Dubai always does Christmas early in a desperate rush to fit it all in before so many people go away back home for the main event! Still, there’s lots that stay too, more and more each year as costs increase faster than salaries, and it will be good to see you all.

The chamber choir at the Mission to Seafarers Concert last Thursday started with an interesting version of a well known song (Es ist ein Ros) – listening to it on my computer it’s a bit boring but in the acoustic of our church it was absolutely magical as the chords meshed in an out of focus. Reminded me of when they did Lux Arumque (It’s about time they put some quality youtube clips out of their own performances as they are as good as the links I give 😉 ) On Friday of course we had our own Nativity and carols service pictured above with a real live baby Jesus. The children were of course wonderful but I think only the Friday school teachers will appreciate how much it takes to get such a bunch together! On Saturday we had a Christingle and carols service – at the DESC there are thick curtains so we could enjoy the candles in darkness with the lights off very well. That was followed by a Guides and Brownies Christingle in the same hall so we darkened it again for that and there had my second mince pie of the season.Guides Brownies Rainbow Christingle service at Academic City 2014 (800x450) I do find this time of year very moving, normally because of the memories of years past but this year it is the recent years past that are uppermost in my mind because we’re leaving Dubai. So many beautiful Nativity plays and Uniformed Organisations services we have done together! Memories of eleven Christmas concerts each from the Dubai Chamber Choir and Dubai Singers to add to the mix of feelings as I hear their wonderful harmonies fill our church – how much I long for their concerts, filled with words of Christian teaching and worship, to be sung to God rather than to the audience, and for the audience to become, with the choir, a congregation praising God! Of course many in their concerts ARE praising God and I encourage you not to let this warm up be the heart of your Christmas – come for the main event!

Christmas Midnight 11pm, and Christmas Day 9.30am. If you have family visiting who have missed it, or just want to sing some more carols and pray to God together, we have another Christingle service at Christ Church on the 28th at 6pm.

And of course, don’t forget we’re open every week for private prayer, and any Friday 9.30am, Saturday 9.30am (Academic City) and Sunday 7.30pm to join with others to sing carols galore until 12th night :) .

At home in exile

Nativity service 2013

One of the facets of having an English language service in a foreign country is that we have people of many different nationalities attending our services. Like the Christians that Saint Peter wrote to in Asia Minor we are exiles and aliens (1Peter 1.1 and 2.11). A common term for Christian communities was paroikia, or ‘place of refuge or exile’. This word is where the English word ‘Parish’ comes from. The followers of this new faith gathered together in a desire to worship, but also in a desire to experience a certain solidarity in a world where they were a minority and scattered far and wide by occasional persecutions.

When we are in a foreign place we do the same – people tend to gather with those of like mindset: The Caledonian society enabling Scottish folk to gather and do…whatever Scottish people do, the Rugby 7s a time to get rugby fanatics together, the Christian church a place to get Christian fanatics together to do…whatever Christian folk gather and do. Our gathering at church for Christmas is an expression of our faith, but also it helps us experience a certain solidarity and encouragement in numbers where in some of our home countries they seem to be leaving God out entirely, and in this country we feel our daily life sometimes affected powerfully by Islam – we are not atheists after all, and we are not Muslim, we, well we are Christians. We gather to celebrate and identify with our Christian heritage, we have a common feeling, we can feel comfortable together that even from all different countries of the world, there is a common song in our hearts as regards the importance of Jesus Christ in our world.

In the English parish system the word parish has come to mean something solid, as unmoving as parish boundaries, and a symbol for establishment and old fashioned stability, a marking out of our own territory, a hangover from a world which now seems to find geographical boundaries increasingly irrelevant as we travel and communicate without any reference to such boundaries, local and even international. The origins of the word are almost the opposite of all this – yes it marks a place of refuge where Christians gather and feel safe, but the place was not of permanance but a place where Christians gathered as temporary residents in a country not their own, as exiles. They gathered as followers of a new king that the world was yet to recognise. They gathered not to mark out territory, but to celebrate the existence of a world that, ultimately, had no national boundaries, Jew or Gentile – one king, one people, a royal priesthood who would light the way to God.

All this is especially fine at Christmas time when record numbers of people traditionally come to church. We celebrate the new born king with fine music and food and presents and whatever else. We celebrate our own traditions at home as far as we can, usually with music and food that are traditional in our home countries, and we gather with our fellow countrymen to remind ourselves of home. The delight and testing of an English language service is that people come from many different nations, which makes it impossible for any hymn chooser to choose music from home from each home that we all come from! Brits may love seeing a favourite carol come up on the screen and take a deep breath ready for the first line, only to discover, Oh! it’s that American tune! Americans do the same but may discover it’s an African tune we’ve got today. Our parish, our place of exile is not home, and yet, it is our parish, the place where we belong for the present, because we DO have a common story and a common heritage and a home – we know Jesus Christ, born in Bethlehem.

Let us share his story together again this Christmas, let us take refuge in him, let us find our identity in that babe in the manger, whose life was to become so important for us. We live as foreigners and aliens in a strange place, and yet here in this place we bear common witness to Emmanuel born in the manger, God’s Wisdom come close to us, the Lord of Might come to set us free, the Key of David to open the door to heaven, the Rod of Jesse to deliver us from our enemies, the Dawn from on high to break upon us who dwell in darkness with the light of that great new day,  we bear witness to the Desire of Nations, the King of Peace, who has come to his people and set them free.

These are all great titles for Jesus Christ and today we celebrate his birth and God coming to us. With God we are at home wherever we are because wherever we are we are in his kingdom, his principality, our home. Even in Exile we can carry the feeling of being at home here whether that exile be among work colleagues or family who are all of a different faith, or worse of no faith.

In all the extras of this Christmas season, I hope you will spend a little time on your own at the manger, finding yourself, your joy, and your home, in him.

Happy Christmas!

The Return of the Wise Men

three-wise-men-hiI’ve now had my second mince pie of the season – at a Christmas band and choir concert which had a total absence of any mention of Jesus, unless you count the excellent rendition of an orchestral arrangement of Adeste Fideles. All the music was very well done and I enjoyed it but it did strike me as a little weird to miss out the Christian part of the story entirely. I got quite emotional when singing ‘I’m dreaming of a white Christmas’ because I really was casting my mind back to those days – Ah, yes, those were the days! I didn’t have to worry about presents or Christmas dinner then either because Mum and Dad took care of all that while we went sledging.

I have also enjoyed another Christmas party for the prison ministry – we hope to get our usual permission for our Christmas Service inside sometime near Christmas Day, but the party was for visitors to the prison who come from different churches across Dubai. We didn’t have any mince pies but we had plenty of talk of Jesus with prayers and dancing and so on with some Christmas brownies and samosas. 

We are still very much ‘on the way’ enjoying all the previews – carol services timetable here. The wise men, pictured here, are still some time away but I encourage you to think about joining us on their return journey – we are planning a desert retreat on the 10th-11th January with Revd. Murray Brown who led our Lenten desert retreat last year. We will leave after church on the 10th and join up for lunch together. After that we go in convoy, as in the picture but motorised (wouldn’t it be fun to go on camels though!), to our next stop, then on by foot (except for drivers who go on to set up camp) to our third stop, before going on by foot to our camp site. Children welcome too. It’s a bring your own everything event – food, tent, etc. If you have no tent, but would like to try it, please email our office and we will try to link you up with someone who has a tent but can’t make the camp. Geant did have a good bargain – three person tents for Dhs 75, but that’s finished. Maybe Carrefour has a bargain? It will be near enough to drive home, but for those who stay (or who return early), there is a dawn service, reflection and more during the morning in the desert and at our Academic City church. If you are moved to stay in the camp for longer then bring more food :-) I’m hoping for good weather!

In the mean time, come to church and celebrate Christmas. If you are worried about the crowds (what a lovely problem to have to cope with!) then come to church beforehand and ask alternative directions to the churches from those who know the local routes – it’s not easy to describe it over the phone ;-). 

 

Christmas Freedoms in a Muslim land

Girlguiding carol service Safa group 2 (800x450)Just had the Safa Girlguiding District Christmas Celebration 2013 and my first mince pie of the season! What an amazingly organised group they are! Loads of them in santa hats or with red reindeer antlers and a noisy atmosphere of celebration. Of just over  300 girls in the district (in Guides, Brownies and Rainbows) there were about 120 of them in church. We sang about Santa Claus and Reindeers but also Bethlehem and Jesus, with poems and bible readings, finishing with ‘Feed the world’ which brought us neatly to the practical application of such a remembrance of Christ coming to help the poor as well as the rich.

Back in England where I come from I don’t think they go to church any more, which is a shame for an organisation originating with a Christian heritage. But here in Islamic UAE it’s not problem because Muslims understand about God and are not embarrassed that Christians should want to celebrate Christmas with prayers and songs about Jesus – indeed they find it amusing and even shocking that so many in England and America put pressure on Christians to keep quiet about the Christian side of the Christmas story in schools and organisations such as these, in an effort, supposedly,  to avoid offending them. It’s great being in a country that is not embarrassed about religion and about God and is happier really when people include God in their conscious thoughts each day and pray to him, living the life that is at peace with him.

It was a joy to celebrate with such a wonderful crowd tonight – though, given my previous blog about waiting I had to explain why only one of the candles on the Advent Ring was lit and that this Carol service was a trailer for the main feature, a preview, a sneak peak – and I’m afraid when they sang the last verse of O Come all ye faithful I just had to keep mum! I just can’t do it – that verse is for Christmas morning! Not long now! I used the occasion of course as a chance to advertise our Advent/Christmas schedule and I encourage you to invite those you know to church this Advent time 😉

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