PYM General Secretary Christie Duncan-Tessmer is currently traveling as a member of a delegation of the National Council of Churches to the Middle East. This ten-day trip includes visits with diplomats, politicians, church leaders, and activists in Lebanon, Egypt, Israel, and Palestine. PYM will be posting periodic updates from Christie this week during her trip, to share what the NCC delegation is seeing and witnessing through our General Secretary’s eyes.
We started today with very early worship at St. Peter’s Church at St. Mark’s Coptic Orthodox Cathedral in Cairo. This church is the same one that was the target of an ISIS bombing last December.
We arrived before the 6 a.m. service, while the priests and laymen (they were all men) chant the psalms in Coptic (a combination of Arabic and Greek) while arranging the communion and setting up logistic details. We stayed for two hours of the service and then slipped out to prepare for our next meeting with Egypt’s President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi.
We weren’t allowed to bring our phones into the presidential palace so I don’t have any pictures. Official photos were taken and it is possible we’ll get a copy.
The experienced members of the delegation thought we’d probably get 20 minutes with him, or more if he had time and was engaged. In the end we talked for nearly two hours.
For the first half hour President Sisi spoke through an interpreter about: valuing freedom of religion; the importance and difficulty of moving the country forward; and his faith. After the General Secretary of the National Council of Churches spoke about NCC and the purposes of our trip, it became more of a conversation. A very formal conversation.
President Sisi, who has been criticized for human rights abuses and who came to power by ousting his democratically elected Muslim Brotherhood predecessor, spoke about religious diversity, and his experience of Islam and God.
Our next meeting was with the Grand Mufti, who occupies the highest religious office governing laws applied throughout the Sunni Faith in Egypt. One of the primary duties of the Grand Mufti is to respond to questions about Islamic Faith with interpretations of the Quran, which in these times are increasingly received via email and Facebook. The average daily number of incoming queries is 2400.
Next, we went to the US Embassy to speak with the Chargé d’Affaires at the U.S. Mission in Egypt. To our questions—concerning what he and his staff think is important for our Delegation and members back home to know—they say that the biggest threat to the region is extremism. To understand the region, both non-Muslims and Muslims need to read the Quran.
After that 13-hour day we were ready for sleep, but needed to debrief as a group, develop our thinking, and watch the sunset as we referenced our faith and deepened our connections with each other.
PYM General Secretary