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St. John The Baptist Church

Samir Raafat
Cairo Times, December 9, 1999

St. John the Baptist front view

St. John the Baptist 1936 St. John the Baptist 1995

garden church fete at South African Embassy

icon A page in Maadi's old book is about to be re-opened--the consecration of the church of Saint John the Baptist some 70 years ago. "We are going to re-enact the fund-raising fete that preceded the groundbreaking ceremony of 1930" says current Episcopal/Anglican Chaplain Matthew Rhodes, 32.

Rhodes was referring to the 23 November 1929 garden fete held at Diamantis Cafe on the Nile under the high patronage of Lady Percy Loraine, wife of the British High Commissioner. Maadi's Anglo-Egyptians (colonial term used to denote long-time British residents Egypt) had decided to replace the rickety makeshift church on Road 14 with a permanent structure on Road 82.

The fete was the first of a series of fund-raising events culminating with the 1933 procurement from Edinburgh of the church organ.

Having said that, some will wonder which church Rhodes is talking about. Up until recently, to most of Maadi's expatriate churchgoing residents, the one he refers had ceased to exist when it was unofficially renamed the Maadi Community Church (MCC). In fact, any Maadi Messenger reader would have replied with zero hesitation that the MCC is associated with the National Council of Churches of Christ in the USA. So what's all this talk about the little white church on Port Said Street belonging to, or connected with, the Episcopal/Anglican Church? And what's all this subliminal advertising trying to insinuate another name? Is this a Coke vs. Pepsi type of thing or what?

The answer to the confusion goes back to 1956 in the aftermath of the Suez War when the British community of Egypt was expelled in-toto and when Maadi's now-chaplain-free Anglican Church became a no man's land. Even the British wives of Egyptian nationals stayed away for fear of being stigmatized. These were the days of Inglizi, OUT!

Yet as the largest city in Africa and the Middle East aside from being a center of international diplomacy, the Cairo void would soon be filled by new native English speakers, albeit with a different accent. It was the turn for a more diverse and transient American diplomatic community to take over. In their tracks were those neighborly jeans-clad families with a Texas drawl.

Indeed, during the Petrodollar era, companies like Amoco and Conoco had a major impact on American social and church activities in Maadi. So that what for three decades had been an Episcopalian Sunday service characterized by balancing word with sacrament (Bible and holy communion) eventually became a Baptist-type Friday (concession to the Islamic weekend) sermon with more emphasis on the Word. The bible thumpers had arrived!

As Maadi's American expatriate community continued to grow, invariably reflecting Egypt's expanding dependence on US military and economic assistance, the quaint church building, where hundreds of WW2 New Zealanders had once congregated, was no longer adequate. A temporary solution was found in 1995 when Pastor Dave Petrescue's services relocated under a marquee stringed across part of the churchyard.

Maadi Community Chuch St. John The Baptist

TURF WAR?! (reproduced from two recent flyers)

The first full-time Anglican chaplain since 1956, Rhodes who comes from the UKs West Midlands, has had some re-organizing to do and some turf to claim. Asked whether there is any conflict of interest with two padres at the same church preaching to two different congregations, especially when the new kid on the block is in fact representing the original landlord, Rhodes was very clear.

"There's an ongoing arangement between the Episcopal/Anglican diocese in Zamalek and the Council of Churches of America outlining the relationship between both institutions regarding these premises. So there is no conflict. Meanwhile our common objective is to better serve the community. This is not a competition."

Yet the November 10 garden fete scheduled to take place at the South African Embassy garden under the auspices of Mrs. Eunice Mallalose is strictly for the benefit of the Church of St. John the Baptist. Nevertheless, the proceeds will benefit all users of the church--the organ needs to be fixed, new pews to be paid for, lighting changed, etc. Any remaining funds will go to a school for the deaf and other Episcopal charities.

One thing for sure, the church is today known under two names (but so far, one website) and caters to a much wider congregation than originally anticipated.

Had he known his parochial parish church would one day cater to Korean, South Sudanese and converted Copts plus several other nationalities besides the usual Anglo-Saxon flock it was primarily designed for, Sir Herbert Baker may have built a Cathedral instead.

But what about the nonsectarian lady who lives across the street, how does she characterize the developments next door?

"I've lived long enough to see many changes in Maadi, not all of them nice. But as far as this lovely church is concerned it is simply a matter of Halloween displacing Guy Fawkes and cucumber-sandwich fetes giving way to weenies 'n ketchup bazaars."

But since Pimm's and minced pies may be the order of the day come December 10, the church with two names may just have come full circle.

chaplain Matthew Rhodes
chaplain Matthew Rhodes


 
Reader Comments
 

Subject: Greetings from Australia
Date: Tue, 14 Dec 1999 11:48:23 +1030
From: Ramy Azer
Org: The University of Adelaide

Good day. I read all your articles and I usually have comments but usually also am too busy to share them. This time it is so close to the bone, so I will share this one comment.

10th of December 1992 was my wedding in that beautiful church known to us as the Church of all Saints. Bishop Ghayes Abd-El Malek held the sermon with Father Marcus (the Coptic priest from Saint Mar-Marcus in Maadi). There was a double booking on the day and the Americans were sure that they had right of way. To their surprise their priest had to explain to them that the church actually belongs to the Anglicans and the boss (Bishop Ghayes himself) was performing the wedding. This was the icing on the cake.

My wife, a none practicing Australian from Anglican stock, and myself a none practicing Copt, wanting to get married in a church for my mother's sake. The time chosen was the Christmas holidays enabling my in-laws to travel from Australia. Failing to convince Pope Shenouda to allow us to have a Coptic wedding during fasting and having already been married officially by the state (El-Shahr El-Akary/Notary public), we had to approach bishop Ghayes to marry us the Anglican way.

This of course opened a can of worms between Copts and Anglicans about converting Copts. I can go on and on about this period of my life. Nevertheless, I find it quite a coincidence the same church is celebrating its anniversary on my wedding day, the same day that I was introduced to the complexity of the church's status and ownership. Ramy Azer


Ah, how nice to go to Road 82 and revisit this pretty little church where my sister-in-law's sister, Lucy Ades, was married there to Roland Jacquillard. They emigrated to Australia. I occasionally attended services at St. John the Baptist's, in the time of Reverend Meinardus, but it was much too American for me. Communion in mini-glasses, unattractive American hymns and, coffee hour with American wives who all looked like June Allyson. All this made me feel alien and black. Viviane Paz

articles posted on egy.com were published in the following books by Samir W Raafat: THE EGYPTIAN BOURSE, Zeitouna, Cairo -- CAIRO THE GLORY YEARS, Harpocrates, Alexandria -- HISTORY & SOCIETY IN A CAIRO SUBURB; MAADI 1904-1962, Palm Press, Cairo -- PRIVILEGED FOR THREE CENTURIES, printed digitally and bound by Elias Printing, Egypt

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