Here in Cairo there is a limited supply of English speaking churches, and while Arabic churches probably provide a great "in" to the culture and the community, I can't understand what's going on and I really need to worship in a place where I know what people are saying. So far we have been worshipping at St. Andrews, which is a Reformed church (started by the Church of Scotland, currently with a Lutheran and an RCA pastor) that is "international and interdenominational." It seems to be pretty expected that volunteers worship there, but the average Friday worship attendance is maybe 30-40, and Sunday morning is less than 10. Tonight Sarah and I visited the Heliopolis Community Church which is also an English-speaking international/interdenominational church. There are, supposedly, 22 nationalities represented in the people that worship there, and also a significantly larger worshipping community. Tonight there were about 20 people, and Friday they usually have over 100, apparently. There were some noticeable differences tonight compared to St. Andrews--first being that the people at HCC sing! At St. Andrews the worship is highly liturgical--in that everything-including-the-readings-and-prayers-is-printed-in-the-bulletin kind of way--and the average service includes two or three hymns that most people don't sing. At HCC tonight we sang about 8 songs--some traditional hymns (The Church's One Foundation was one), some more chorus-like (but none of the choruses that I normally rebel against)--and everyone was singing like they meant it. It was wonderful. The message was one I didn't completely agree with (big surprise there) but I was able to take something away that could be adapted to my understanding of God. The community seemed to actually care--there were concerns and celebrations, Sarah and I introduced ourselves, we were prayed for during the prayers of the people, we were welcomed profusely afterward. Though the pastor is more conservative than I am, and I think I like the pastor and pastor's family at St. Andrews more (as people and possibly as a preacher), I think I prefer the sense of community and the enthusiastic singing of HCC. I suspect I will split my time between those churches, because I just can't handle a year of a non-singing church. Singing is too important to me and my journey. Just saying.
How did we get to HCC? We took the tram. It's a part of the Metro system, I guess, but it's all above ground and it runs to places the Metro doesn't. For example, to Heliopolis. We got on around 5pm, which is really close to iftar (breaking the fast--when the sun goes down, Muslims eat at last). No one was on the train, and it started going at breakneck speed--literally! It went so fast that we were bumping and jostling around, as in boing! boing! boing! aaah! I was afraid one of us might just bounce out of the seat or even out of the window! It was crazy!! There was no traffic (everyone's inside getting ready to eat) so we didn't have to stop at street crossings...there was no one waiting to get on so we only slowed down and stops...it was quite the adventure. We couldn't talk to each other because it was loud (track noise and the wind literally RUSHING in the windows), but we laughed like crazy the whole way. We finally got to what we thought was the stop, but we couldn't find the church. We used our cell phone (thank goodness for the Cairo travelling mobile!) to call Nancy, who lives in Heliopolis and worships at HCC on Fridays, to ask for directions. When she heard where we were, she said "I'll come pick you up." She drives, so she came and got us and drove us to the church. She was right--we never would have found it. It is a nondescript building behind a big wall with no sign! We were very lucky to have her. After she took us to the church, she showed us how to get back to the tram stop we SHOULD have gotten off at--thank goodness because guess what? It's really close and convenient. And the tram only costs 25 piastres one way. Anyway, it was a big adventure, and one well worth it. The singing alone made it worth it. I'm excited to visit on a Friday when there are more people and even more singing, and real musical instruments (not just an electric piano). I think I can probably live with guitars and words on a screen (they're from the book, I think, but the books are expensive and there are apparently a lot of people on Fridays...on Sundays they use the book) and even with the conservative sermons to have people actually sing in church. I am that desperate.
A note about holy days: You notice that Friday is the bigger day...the weekend here is Friday-Saturday for most people and for the government. Most schools (except Christian-run schools like RCG), offices, businesses, etc, operate Sunday-Thursday. Friday is the Muslim holy day and is also the main church day, especially for protestants. Orthodox people worship primarily on Sunday and Wednesday. Friday is the first day of the weekend, and it takes some getting used to to go to church on the first day of the weekend, but it's worth it because there are more people. My weekend is Friday and Sunday, and I definitely prefer going on Friday because then I have Sunday (the first day of the Egyptian workweek) to do things, hang out, etc. It's much easier to go to the souk, visit the shops, and do fun things because they run weekday hours on one of my days off! I love it. Also, I can sleep in. yay. Anyway....that's the scoop on churches so far.