I have been kicking about in Alexandria for four weeks now. It is certainly quite a change from quiet north Armagh! Alexandria is a busy place, filled with bustling, tooting traffic rushing past posh looking clothes shops (which are many) while a multitude of street traders sell everything from y-fronts to cactus fruit on the pavements in front. At first glance Egypt seems like a very competitive place, as everyone tries to eek out their living. But this is also a place of hospitality.
As I was telling my young translator after the Alpha meeting on Friday night, the hospitality of the churches here has been one of the things I’ve found very striking. In the gospels we never have to read very far to find Jesus and the disciples sitting down to eat something, and it is the same with the churches in Alexandria, they never miss an opportunity to share food together. Whether it is the midweek Bible study, service of Evening Prayer or the main Communion service, there is always an extended social time over some sandwiches and coffee afterwards.
It is noticeable too, how familial the congregations are, as the children run freely around tables filled with extra siblings, aunts, uncles, and grandparents. There is a real vision here of what it is to be the family of God, gathering around the spiritual food of God’s word, and sharing fellowship over physical food afterwards. There is an effort to make sure everyone is included here, even if their Arabic is a little subpar, people are patient as we chat through an interpreter, or exchange a few loosely remembered words in each other’s language.
We’re well known for our hospitality in Ireland too, and not without due cause, when there’s a tea put on you’re usually closer to rolling home than anything else! But the Alexandrian example gives me cause to wonder too, whether we shouldn’t be aiming for more than a polite cup of tea and a slice of tart on a special occasion. What would it look like if we took every church meeting as an opportunity for fellowship over food? Perhaps we might start to get a little more of a glimpse of what it will be like at the wedding feast of the Lamb when we share in the Father’s glory.