I arrived in Egypt just before the Graduation in 2016, so with Graduation this year I knew I had clocked a full year and more. The graduation took place at Heliopolis Presbyterian Church on Friday 2nd June, but the whole week had been a series of different events, from the trying on of gowns and hoods to the collection of boxes of books, kindly donated by publishers and local congregations, especially to those who will become pastors.
On the Thursday evening there was an in-house celebration of those graduating in the Auditorium at the Seminary, with song and speeches, though rather more of the latter! Then on Friday afternoon everyone gathered for the special ceremony in Heliopolis.
This year the graduation coincided with Ramadan, so in order to allow Muslim guests to attend, the ceremony took place in the afternoon rather than the evening. There were 52 students graduating, including four who graduated with Master of Theology degrees, including one from South Sudan who teaches at the Seminary in Juba. There were also 11 who graduated from the 4 year, full-time Master of Divinity programme who will become pastors in Synod of the Nile congregations.
The others graduated with Masters in Theology or in Organisational Leadership. Michel Ezzat, a friend from St Andrew’s Church, graduated in Theology after a number of years taking courses part-time. During the ceremony two elderly pastors were given special presentations, as they had graduated from the Seminary 50 years before, so that was a nice touch. There was also a presentation to Sarah Kim, a Korean woman who has worked in the Egyptian church for 40 years. However, the day belonged to those who were graduating and their families, and they certainly made the most of a colourful and eventful day.
Among those graduating was Michael Youssef, who was one of the first to welcome me when I arrived at the Evangelical Theological Seminary in Cairo (ETSC). 26 years old, Michael was the youngest student in his year, and thoroughly enjoyed his time at the Seminary.
He comes from a family which is rooted in the Presbyterian Church, with his grandfather being an elder, and both parents being very involved. Michael grew up in the church and was involved in the youth group and taught Sunday School. After completing secondary school, he studied Tourism at Minya University, and it was during this time that Michael felt called to the ordained ministry. People are important to Michael, and he sees the importance of caring for them and affirming them. After university Michael spent a year in Hurghada, a big resort on the Red Sea, where he worked in tourism.
The Red Sea resorts are famous for the number of Russians who come to soak up the sun (fewer these days because of travel restrictions!), and Michael learned Russian in order to communicate with them. After a year there, however, he was accepted for the Seminary. At the Seminary he immediately appreciated being part of the community. He formed good friendships and soon regarded ETSC as his family. He felt that here people ‘played together and prayed together’.
The courses he has enjoyed best have been in Systematic Theology, but he also has appreciated access to a well-stocked library and the joy of discovering books and ideas. Michael has now become the pastor of Reeda, a small congregation of 100 members (and no elders!) near Minya .Looking ahead, Michael would like to continue to study in the future and perhaps take the Master of Theology programme. He sees education as vital, and has the ambition to write books in Arabic to increase the knowledge of church members.