The Anglican Diocese of Cyprus and the Gulf: a selective history
Established in 1976, the Anglican Diocese of Cyprus and the Gulf is one of the four dioceses that make up the Province of Jerusalem and the Middle East. In 1984 the diocese established companion links with the Diocese of Exeter in England and in 2005 with the Diocese of Thika in Kenya. In addition to its many parishes, the diocese is also host to a substantial and growing Mission to Seafarers presence as well as a thriving Retreats Ministry.
The history of the Diocese of Cyprus and the Gulf is a catalogue of the determined, from founder-Bishop Leonard Ashton (whose first office was a typewriter in the boot of his purple Morris Minor) to incumbent Bishop Michael Lewis, enthroned in 2007, whose focus on vocation has included the ordination of women (since 2010)—the only diocese in the Province to do so.
Originally conceived as a dual-structure diocese with parallel synods and boards of finance, Cyprus and the Gulf were properly unified in 1980 and soon gained new diocesan offices in Nicosia—and two cathedrals.
The church buildings that became St Paul’s Cathedral in Nicosia and St Christopher’s Cathedral in Bahrain predate the diocese. St Paul’s Church was completed in 1885 at a cost of some £1,200 (although the belfry remained without bell until the 1930s) and re-hallowed as diocesan cathedral on 15 May 1981 by Bishop Leonard Ashton. St Christopher’s Church was built in 1953 on land generously donated by Sheikh Salman bin Hamad al Khalifa, its Persian stained-glass windows a gift from the British Political Resident at Bushire, in present-day Iran. St Christopher’s became a pro-Cathedral in 1982, elevated to cathedral status by an Episcopal Mandate and Declaration, signed on 23 April 1986 by Bishop Harry Moore.
When the British first arrived in Cyprus in 1878, responsibility for the Anglicans lay with the Bishop of Gibraltar, the Right Reverend Charles Sandford, for whom an important priority was advancing “mutual understanding between our Church and the Orthodox Churches of the East” (H. Knight, The Diocese of Gibraltar).
In Larnaca that December, Bishop Sandford celebrated “Divine Service in an iron building”—after which efforts were made to raise funds for the construction of a church (F. Christofides, A Small but Suitable Church). The small Byzantine-style church of St Helena, built by the Greenwood family in 1906 to a design by George Jeffrey (of St Barnabas Limassol and St George Jerusalem fame), was demolished in 1978. Replaced by a block of flats with a space for worship, the new structure contains part of the altar and a window depicting St Helena from Jeffrey’s original church.
The promotion of interdenominational and interfaith relations has been a defining feature of the diocese from the outset. Ammochostos—one of currently six Anglican parishes in Cyprus—was for more than a few years home to the Middle East Council of Churches (MECC), which moved its office from Lebanon in 1974 to continue its work across the Churches on various issues including relations with Islam. Housed in a monastery leased from the Greek Orthodox Church, the MECC benefited from an Anglican-funded accommodation block next door that completed the infrastructure required to operate a Christian conference centre. The parish of Ammochostos now worships at Deryneia and Famagusta as well as Ayia Napa.
St Andrew’s in Kyrenia, built in 1913 on land donated by Scottish mine-owner George Houston, began as a two-room church. Twenty-four Greek Orthodox and nine Anglicans attended the inauguration. In 1949 funds for an extension were provided by Mr and Mrs B C Petrides, whose son, RAF Ft Lt Basil Petrides, died in the Second World War. The Hermitage, which serves as the parsonage, was built in 1945 by Father Ambrose Williams, a recluse who rarely attended St Andrew’s.
The much-extended church of St Barnabas in Limassol bears further testament to the welcoming of other denominations. The site, purchased by the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel in Foreign Parts in 1912, has undergone considerable work over the past century. The roof leaked from the outset and was replaced entirely in the 1990s, while stained-glass windows have gradually come to replace the plain originals. Other additions include the installation of a new organ (2004) and a south-side extension (2013). As well as English-speaking Anglicans, the church now hosts congregations worshipping in several other languages.
At 6,000 feet above sea level, inclement weather posed a challenge to the construction of St George-in-the-Forest at Troodos, built over three summers from 1928-31. The majority of services held were military, with summer congregations bolstered by the arrival of government officers escaping the heat for “the season” of 13 Sundays. The church has recently undergone significant work, including the provision of disabled access.
Back at sea level in the coastal district of Paphos, St Antony’s—a beautiful Orthodox church with seating for just 25—was made available for Anglican worship by Bishop Chrysostomos in the 1970s. Subsequently outgrown, Anglicans joined Roman Catholic worshippers in also using the Orthodox church of Ayia Kyriaki Chrysopolitissa, sometimes referred to as the Church by St Paul’s Pillar. Two further congregations have been established in Paphos District, in more flexible, modern spaces: St Stephen Tala and St Luke Prodromi near Polis.
Cyprus is also home to the Diocesan Retreats Ministry, which runs Katafiyio—the Diocesan retreats house in the village of Kapedes in Nicosia District. Established in 2004, the Retreats Ministry seeks to provide spiritual refreshment to people across the diocese and wider province, including individually guided retreats for 1-8 people.
…and the Gulf
In the aftermath of the 1990 invasion of Kuwait, St Christopher’s Cathedral in Bahrain was an important place of solace for lay people and military alike. A plain wooden cross that had been part of the RAF chaplain’s makeshift camp chapel during the conflict is housed there.
The cathedral has hosted guest fellowships since the 1960s, including congregations of the Coptic Orthodox Church, the Indian Pentecostal Church, the Church of South India, and the Mar Thoma Church, with still more joining since the addition of new facilities in the 1990s. The Ecumenical Conference of Charity, established in 1997, helps migrant workers in need and provides ministry in prisons and hospitals. Like many Gulf churches, St Christopher’s offers services on Fridays and Saturdays, in addition to those on Sunday. Worship also takes place at Awali. At St Christopher’s, Tamil Anglican liturgy is celebrated.
In the early days of the oil industry in Kuwait, Christian worship took place in a Nissen hut—until 1956, when the Kuwait Oil Company built a church in Ahmadi named St Paul’s, after the only apostle known to have visited Arabia. Stained-glass windows from the Church of St Peter Chesil in Winchester, England were added in 1966. In line with the Church constitution, the council reflected the delicate balance of worshippers (66.5% with Church of England origins, 19% Church of Scotland, 9% Methodist, 2% Baptist, 1.5% Congregationalist and 2% Other, according to the 1955 electoral roll), alongside a committee representing the English-speaking, Assyrian, Malayali, Syrian Orthodox, and Telugu congregations.
The first Diocesan ordination was at Ahmadi—that of the Reverend Clive Windebank, priested in 1979.
During the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait in 1990, several members of St Paul’s congregation were held hostage, including the Reverend Michael Jones and his wife, Jean. At the end of the war, work to repair the church and rebuild congregations went hand in hand. The first Mandarin-language services were held in 2007. On the interfaith scene, a Muslim-Christian council was established in the State of Kuwait in 2009.
Anglican worship in Baghdad, Iraq, began with the establishment of a British protectorate in 1920, in what had been an Ottoman guardhouse. After that building was demolished in the 1930s to make way for a bridge over the Tigris, its replacement was the Mesopotamian Memorial Church of St George, completed in 1936 and built in memory of the 41,115 British soldiers who died in the region during the First World War. Alongside regular Anglican worship in English it housed other denominations, including an Arabic-language group.
When St George’s was closed and looted following Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait, an Iraqi Christian looked after the church and its compound. In 2003, the Foundation for Relief and Reconciliation in the Middle East began to use St George’s as a centre for food distribution and other relief work, and in due course established a medical clinic. Latterly a professional kindergarten was organised by the parish priest, and an extensive three-storey diocesan primary school has now been built.
The Anglican Centre in Qatar, opened in 2013 and home to the Anglican Church of the Epiphany, is an example of a different approach to the hosting of Christian congregations in the Gulf. Its compound sits within an extensive religious complex that has been described as “a village of Christian communities and a remarkable expression of Pentecost faith in an Islamic state” (M. Rhodes). The Church of the Epiphany holds Anglican services in Tamil, Marathi and Igbo as well as English, while on a Friday, the principal day of worship, the Centre as a whole serves around 85 different Christian groups, totalling some 14,000 worshippers from 63 countries.
Holy Trinity in Dubai hosts an even greater number of Friday worshippers—around 16,000 from 120 denominations and fellowships. The boldly modern church was built by volunteers in 1969 on land gifted by His Highness Sheikh Rashid bin Saeed al Maktoum, who laid the foundation stone. Holy Trinity was expanded in the 1980s and 1990s and again in 2001.
Dubai is also home base for Mission to Seafarers (MtS) in the Gulf and South Asia. With 17 ports in the UAE alone, MtS offers practical, emotional and spiritual help to thousands of seafarers. Crew abandoned on ship by bankrupt or criminal owners are visited by chaplains, who can provide seafarers with home comforts and contacts for legal advice. The Mission also operates port-side clubs, offering seafarers a space to socialise and internet facilities to reconnect with family, as well as advising those attempting to secure unpaid wages. MtS also operates in Cypriot ports such as Limassol and in the port in Bahrain.
St Martin Sharjah, the local place of Anglican worship before the construction of Holy Trinity, was originally established as the British Garrison Church in 1926—and occasionally rendered inaccessible when a high tide submerged the tarmac access road. Demolished in the 1980s, the church was rebuilt in 1997 on land generously provided to the Christian community by His Highness Sultan bin Mohammad al Qasimi.
Christ Church Jebel Ali, consecrated in 2002, serves Christians living in the southern areas of the Emirate of Dubai. Its compound lies in a complex that houses churches of other denominations, as well as the UAE’s only Sikh gurdwara.
The present St Luke Ras al Khaimah was constructed on land kindly donated by the then Crown Prince of Ras al Khaimah, Sheikh Saud bin Saqr al Qasimi. The foundation stone was laid by Bishop Michael in 2009. St Nicholas Fujairah has yet to build a church of its own, following an original offer of land for Christian worship by His Highness Sheikh Hamad bin Mohammed Al Sharqi.
The history of the Anglican Church in Abu Dhabi begins on 13 May 1962, when the Archdeacon of Eastern Arabia and the Gulf, the Venerable Alun Morris, was granted an audience with His Highness Sheikh Shakhbut bin Sultan al Nahyan.
“After a pleasant interview with the Sheikh in his desert fortress, he offered to us a plot of 40,000 square feet and left us free to choose the site. In the afternoon we selected a central position on the sea front…”
(Quoted in E. Henderson, A History of St Andrew’s Church)
Amidst the rapid building of Abu Dhabi, St Andrew’s Church emerged. Its formal dedication in 1968 was attended by His Highness Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan al Nahyan, who stood beside Archbishop Campbell McInnes as he knocked on the door of the church and stayed to hear the Archbishop’s address in Arabic.
Although the church was well designed and beautifully furnished, the fast-expanding congregation of St Andrew’s soon outgrew its facilities. A request that the church should move to accommodate government development plans was therefore also an opportunity to scale up, including providing accommodation for churches and priests of certain other traditions. A St Andrew’s Centre foundation stone was laid in 1982 by the Archbishop of York, the Most Reverend Stuart Blanch, and contains a scroll signed by him and members of the congregation. The church was formally dedicated by the Right Reverend Harry Moore, Bishop of Cyprus and the Gulf, in 1984.
The Sultanate of Oman officially recognises the Roman Catholic and Orthodox Churches – and a joint enterprise, known locally as the Protestant Church in Oman, historically overseen and guaranteed by the Reformed Church of America (RCA) and the Anglican Diocese of Cyprus and the Gulf acting in partnership. Over the years, His Highness Sultan Qaboos has allocated land in the vicinity of Muscat at Ruwi and subsequently Ghala, as well as Salalah and Sohar in a more distant part of the country. The RCA and the Anglican Church are also intimately involved in the Al Amana Centre, which fosters dialogues and interchange between Christians and Muslims, in a Sultanate whose Ibadi tradition of Islam ideally suits it to offer a confident location for hospitality and encounter.
This brief history of the Diocese of Cyprus and the Gulf properly concludes in Yemen—whose people’s ongoing suffering mirrors that of so many in the region, while also providing hope for reconciliation, interfaith dialogue and understanding.
From long before the mid-nineteenth century, when Aden was a major staging post for the British merchant navy (complete with a scaled-down Big Ben), to the Second World War when it was the second-busiest port after New York, Yemen was home to a significant number of Christians, with four Anglican and a number of Roman Catholic churches. When North and South Yemen were united in 1990, the diocese redoubled its efforts to effect the restoration of church property and to enable Christian worship—efforts supported by a fatwa issued by the Grand Mufti of Yemen, Sheikh Ahmed Mohammed Zabarah, to Bishop John Brown:
In the name of Allah.
I hereby issue my formal religious rule stating that there is no objection for the church in the city of Tawahi, Aden, to continue conducting religious services, and to allow it to be renovated. It is our duty to allow members of the Christian community to exercise their religious rites, and to worship in their churches, as it is the case in our mosques and Islamic centres all over the United Kingdom and the rest of the Christian world.
The diocese decided not to renovate the church in Crater, which had been used as a police headquarters and acquired a negative reputation. Instead Christ Church near Steamer Point, built in 1864 and of which Queen Victoria was a benefactor, was retained and a medical clinic established.
The church was looted during the civil war beginning in 1994 but opened again in 1996 after restoration. The medical facilities became Ras Morbat Eye Clinic—an important resource that also provides training. It was formally opened, and the restored church was dedicated, by Bishop Clive Handford. The compound’s long-serving administrator is a devout Muslim who has worked tirelessly to keep the clinic functioning through the violence of civil war and the incursions of Al Qaeda and ISIS. Supporting the clinic’s work in Yemen is a major priority of the Diocese of Cyprus and the Gulf.
(If you are interested in finding out more about the Ras Morbat Eye Clinic or other Diocesan projects in need of support, please click here.)