|46: Quaker meeting in Cairo, Egypt|
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Mystery Worshipper: Leo.
The church: A few members of the Society of Friends in Cairo.
Denomination: Society of Friends.
The building: The group meets in members' homes in turns. This first floor apartment was a spacious one and we used the large living room.
The neighbourhood: The apartment is in the Doqqi area of Cairo, which is on the west bank of the Nile and inhabited mainly by lower middle class people and students. It felt unusual to be sitting in silence for an hour during which noisy traffic and the Muslim call to prayer penetrated the shuttered windows.
The cast: Just a few friends.
What was the name of the service?
How full was the building?
The eight of us filled up all the chairs in the living room.
Did anyone welcome you personally?
Yes. The person I was staying with introduced me to the host as she answered the door. We were the first to arrive.
Was your pew comfortable?
We sat on sofas. Mine was too comfortable for proper meditation, but it was relaxing after a day's sightseeing.
How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
Welcoming and friendly with the exchange of gossip, but immediately the clock struck 8.00pm, everyone went into silence.
What were the exact opening words of the service?
None. People simply stopped talking at the appointed hour.
What books did the congregation use during the service?
What musical instruments were played?
Did anything distract you?
The doorbell rang and the host answered it. The phone also rang a couple of times. The street noises of honking motorists and the call to prayer from a nearby minaret were not distracting, because they are everyday Middle Eastern sounds which I found it easy to take into my prayer.
Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
Exactly how long was the sermon?
Quakers don't have sermons. Sometimes someone feels moved to share the fruits of their meditation, but it didn't happen this time.
Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
Being in an oasis of silence in a bustling city.
And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
The phone and doorbell ringing.
What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
I helped lay the table. Each member brought some food, which was shared. We had about an hour's conversation over dinner which was typically ex-pat and ranged over such topics as American vs. Egyptian universities and the role of women in Islam.
How would you describe the after-service coffee?
Bottled water, which was very refreshing, because it had been a hot day and because the tap water is heavily chlorinated.
How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
6. If I lived here, I might alternate it with the Anglican cathedral.
Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
Knowing that it is possible to find a space to pray contemplatively in a busy, extrovert, heavily polluted city.