Lessons in Conspicuousness

It did not look like this, but it did have a steeple

Cairo is obviously well known for its churches. Though it’s no match for Edmond, Oklahoma with regard to church density, it certainly holds its own for church diversity. There are Coptic churches, Armenian churches, Greek Orthodox churches, Protestant churches, churches with mostly Egyptians, churches with mostly foreigners, churches with services in English and Arabic and French and Coptic, churches that God loves, churches that God hates, churches for humans, churches with services on Friday, churches with services on Sunday, and churches with everything in between.

Tonight, friends and I began a church hopping discovery-fest: an expedition in the smorgasbord of church possibilities. I do believe that if every church service we go to is as interesting as the one we went to tonight, then I will have no shortage of blog posts the rest of my time here in Cairo. This blog is, of course, my main motive for doing anything besides sitting in my apartment and watching movies on MBC.

We had planned to go to St. Andrew’s church, a church that has a website and works with refugees, a church that, according to the website, was established over 100 years ago and has a service on Sunday at 7:00. St. Andrew’s was also conveniently close to where we live, which was great because we love visiting the house of God but not if he’s living too far away from us. The church we ended up going to most certainly does not have a website.

Instead of St. Andrew’s church, we accidentally attended a small, evangelical church of an unknown breed, mistaking it for St. Andrews because it was…a church. We hadn’t even considered the possibility of stumbling upon the wrong church. After exiting the Nasser metro stop, we espied a steeple and homed in on it, oblivious to the fact we were missing our intended destination. Finding a gate in a high wall with a cross on it, we gave each other confident nods of confirmation, and pushed it back only to find ourselves in a kind of courtyard, in front of us a small church that resembled a gingerbread house. We entered the tiny sanctuary right as the service was beginning and found that we, three Americans, nearly doubled the size of the congregation. We also were also about 40 years younger than the average attendee. It is safe to say we stood out a bit.

The white-walled church was quite plain, its main decorations a large back lit cross behind the pulpit and a smattering of air conditioners and fans. Though the pastor was no Josh Groban, he successfully led our small band of believers in worship acappela style from the foremost right pew all the while  looking ahead at the powerpoint that he was also operating. The fellow congregants also had varying vocal abilities, each one’s imperfections perfectly audible. My favorite happened to be an elderly lady blessed with the voice of a wooden desk, but a very passionate one at that.

After singing, I learned that Egyptian sermons are just as sleep inducing as American ones. Luckily I was kept awake by the pastor’s occasional shouting and the occasional Bible drill. These Bible drills were actually just him calling out scripture passages, but they became a drill since he would wait to continue until he was sure everyone, especially the foreigners, had found the appropriate verse. Monitoring us was an easy task as we were all exposed beneath his gaze. Cognizant of this vulnerability, I tried to remain awake even more since I knew there was no way the pastor would let one tenth of the congregation slumber in peace.

Post-service, we introduced ourselves to everyone there and realized they were quite eager to keep our young blood in the flock, even taking my friend’s number in order to keep in touch. We, however, were slightly more hesitant, and though we enjoyed the experience, I don’t think it was the spiritual food any of us were looking for, so I can only hope friend doesn’t get a phone call next Sunday night with someone worried about his heavenly status.

It also turned out that the church we were trying to go to was right across the street. Oops. Who knew there would be two so close to each other? The things you learn….

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