SERVING THE WORLD

The History of Saar Fellowship

Awali Church was built by Bapco in 1940 to cater for the needs of its rapidly-growing expatriate community.  Early worshippers included Roman Catholics who quickly obtained the services of a Priest, and Protestants who were essentially interdenominational in character and who called themselves the Awali Interdenominational Church.  The only Protestant clergy in Bahrain at that time were attached to the American Mission in Manama, and the Mission agreed to lead services in Awali once per month - the other services being led by visiting and lay preachers.

 

In 1951 a full-time Anglican Minister came to Bahrain to cater for the needs of growing populations in Manama and Awali. He lived in Manama and concentrated on building the Anglican Church - the present St. Christopher’s Cathedral.  The Anglican Minister also served to the Awali community, accepting its interdenominational character and adapting his service format and pastoral approach accordingly whilst the informal association with the American Mission also continued.  In 1958 the Awali Anglican Church was formed to cater for the growing number of Anglicans in Awali and this church became affiliated with the Anglican Church in Manama.  The much-depleted interdenominational group decided to remain independent although, without regular preachers and pastoral care, attendance at some services dwindled to as low as six including the preacher.

 

Once again the American Mission came to the rescue and the Rev. Roy H Staal agreed to provide a preacher each Sunday and to fulfil essential pastoral duties.  By 1964 we have reports of a weekly attendance of around 60 people, a growing Sunday School and a Women's Bible Study group in Awali. Numbers attending fluctuated between 40 and 60 people for many years after this. Rose Cumber, who first joined Awali Church in 1978 and served as a committee member from 1978-85, remembers the congregation as being a static 30-40 people from the late 1970s right through to the early 1990s. With many expatriates in the oil industry being Bahrainised during this period, the demography of the church was also beginning to change with less people living in Awali.

 

Throughout the 1970s and 1980s, the NEC Pastor would provide some coverage for Awali and lead the Friday service. The Dutch influence in the Reformed Church was evident with Pastors' names including Harold van de Berg and John van Mantgem.

 

Following the Gulf War in 1991, the church began to move away from its more formal services with John Hubers leading the church (a man who had previously been a teacher at the American Mission School (later to become Al Raja School). Guitars were introduced to the services, a crèche and youth group meetings began, and prayer-praise-bible studies commenced on Sunday evenings.

 

In 1997, following a year without a pastor, Rev. Dick Westra took the helm at the NEC and, with it, the pastoral responsibilities for Awali. Under his guidance, the church took the vital step to form an Eldership for the first time. With the consistent growth in the congregation, from around 70 in 1996 to approximately 150 in 2000, it also became apparent that Awali Church needed its own dedicated Pastor.

 

The arrival of Graeme Dunkley in the summer of 2001 was therefore an important moment for the church - and the continuing growth in the church reflects the wisdom of this decision whilst also enabling Pastor Westra to focus on the NEC. 

 

In 2008 Awali Church outgrew the church  in Awali and moved the Friday worship service to St. Christopher's School in Saar. The name was changed at the same time to Saar Fellowship and it continues to meet at the school, now under the guidance of an American pastor, Denny Barger. 

After six and a half years as Pastor, Denny Barger relocated to his native New Jersey in July 2018 to focus on different ministry opportunities with the non-profit he runs. James Travis, who had been mentoring under Denny as assistant pastor since 2016 has taken over as Pastor.

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