When I arrived in Cairo, I knew I had come right at the end of the academic session: classes were finished, and final exam papers were being marked. Friday saw the culmination of the session with the official graduation. It was a very grand affair, held at Heliopolis Presbyterian Church, which was the only place big enough to host such an event and which was packed to the rafters (It took me a good 30 minutes to squeeze my way out at the end!). It was also very slick and professional and well-planned, as I have come to expect of ETSC. 66 students were graduating with various degrees (15 of whom will become ministers, mostly with the M.Div.degree: the majority of the others were MA (Theology) or MA (Organisational Leadership)). I felt it was very encouraging that so many lay people wanted to study theology and leadership at this level, and it bodes well for the church. There were various speeches, needless to say, but the one which stood out for me was that of Tharwat Musa, (I interviewed him and will feature him in a future post),who spoke on behalf of the students on ‘Theological Education and the Devout Life’, drawing out the tension wonderfully between being equipped for the spiritual life, but also reaching out into the life of the community. All in all, an evening of real celebration
The previous evening there had been an ‘in-house’ celebration at the College, starting with snacks outside, before we all packed into the Conference Hall. The families of the graduates had travelled from all over Egypt, and the Thursday event focussed on the love and support – and sacrifice- of the families. The ministerial students who are married, for example, have to leave their spouse and children at home for their four years of study, though obviously see them during breaks. It was good to speak with some of the families and see their pride.
At the moment the Synod of the Nile does not ordain women, though the issue has been brought to recent ‘Assembly’ meetings. All the ministerial candidates were male, therefore, but quite a number of the M.A. students were women. The cities like Cairo and Alexandria tend to be more open minded, and some of the congregations there would have women elders and preachers, but the rural areas tend to befar more conservative.
While there has been a lot of celebration around the Seminary, the mood in the country has been more sombre with the crash of The Egyptair flight MS 804 on the forefront of everyone’s minds. It was amazing how many people knew someone who knew someone who was on the flight. While the investigations into what actually happened still go on, it is undeniably yet another blow to Egypt’s economy, not least the tourist industry which has been struggling to recover from the shooting down of the Russian plane in the Sinai.
Over this past week there have also been tensions in Upper Egypt between Moslems and Christians, arising from a love affair between a Christian man and Moslem woman, which is very much taboo. Houses were burned down, and while the man escaped (I don’t know what happened to the woman), his mother bore the wrath of a mob of young men and was publicly shamed. What hurt a lot of Christians is that the threat of violence was reported to the local authorities, who seemed to do nothing to help. It all reflects the vulnerability that a lot of Christians feel.
On a lighter note, Cinda and Steve Gorman, my predecessors, have been around for the last couple of weeks, Cinda was International Relations Coordinator at the Seminary, while Steve built up relations with the congregations and councils. Both have been tremendously supportive and affirming, and it has been marvelous to have such a handover. They flew out straight after the Graduation on Friday.