Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Church festival weekend


coptic incense burner
Originally uploaded by V'ron
Well, I finally got inside the Coptic Orthodox Church, out at 13th and Drexel. I've ridden my bike past it many times and I've been fascinated with this building, looking like it belongs out in the desert, rather in the middle of the prairie and cornfields. "That's what we were going for," a member of the congregation told me as I entered their festival, Taste of Egypt, last weekend.
Everything -- everything in this building has some symbolism, even the fact that since it's in the Mitchell Field approach path, when you look at it from the air, it's in the shape of the Cross. Even small details such as the appearance of grape vines in much of the motifs had meaning. ("Fruit of the vine and work of human hands, it will become our spiritual drink" -- the Roman Catholic prayer was going through my head as they explained this.) Like the Greek Orthodox Church, the Coptic Orthodox church doesn't seem to be all that much different than the Roman Church -- clearly it was a matter of a few sentences in liturgy and a lot of politics that keep these churches separate. They have Communion (and believe in transubstantiation), they have confession, they have pretty much the same sacraments that the Roman church has. But most of all, they wanted those of us to know that they are indeed Christians, and were aware that many people who came to visit and learn were amazed that Christianity had the large following in Egypt that it does.
They're just getting it going at this location -- the building was up about 2 years ago (after a move of the Congregation -- the only Coptic Orthodox congregation in Wisconsin -- from Watertown), and they are still acquiring and putting art up on its walls ("please come back and visit us through the years to watch it grow"), but there was plenty there to look at. It was this mix of influences from both Western and ancient North Africa that intrigued me, and our guide was extremely knowledgeable about the church's history as well as the history of the words themselves. Services are conducted in English and Coptic and the texts I found in the pews had the scriptures in English, Coptic, and Arabic, and our guide also mentioned that many Copts learn Hebrew in order to read the Old Testament in the original language. This is a group of people who know their history, and it was wonderful just to listen to them tell it: I felt like I was watching some Discovery Channel show about it.

Not that it was all educational television. It was a great little church festival -- this one with camel rides, Egyptian music, and lots of egyptian food prepared -- like many church festivals -- by the congregation with giant ol Nescos and warming platters. Best part: you know those blow up rides for the kids that you pay $3 bucks for and the kids get to go down the slide, once, maybe twice? This festival was small enough that you paid your money and the kids could bounce in the bounce house or go down the slide until they (or you) got sick of it.

Then on Sunday, I was on a bike ride and noted that St Rita's -- one of the bigger festivals in town -- was going on, but I instead opted for my namesake's parish festival, St Veronica's. If I were still an actual practicing Catholic, I'd probably join St V'ron's, not just because of the namesake. That place reminds me most of my old parish growing up, and their festival is a classic Milwaukee Catholic church festival: local sponsor names about, no matter how incongruous the connection, kiddie rides, cover bands, raffles every other minute, fish frys and chicken dinners in the church basement, the ubiquitous smell and sound of power generators about, and a general party that the local parish throws for the neighborhood. Bingo. Rummage. A dunk tank. Church festivals. Gotta love 'em.

This weekend there's a bunch going on that's going to be a hard call. For one thing, I have another art opening, this time at the Brewed Cafe, for Gallery Night. The Brewed Cafe is on Brady Street, and as usual, I'll be there with my colleagues from the Cream City Photogs and we'll serve refreshments and snacks (nice ones, too. We're not just dumping a bunch of pretzels in a bowl.)

As for bands, its a tough call. 1956 has a charity show at Moct on Friday night, and the wonderful Danglers are at Points East with a band called Skeleton Breath from NYC -- a group recommended to me by IROCKZ's Trans Am Dan, who I ran into at Humboldt Park Chill on the Hill tonight. In a perfect world, I'll be able to see it all.

Saturday is tough, too. Trans Am Dan didn't even plug this show, but he's playing in IROCKZ with the Cocksmiths at a free show at the "Grand Reopening of Rock and Roll" at Club Garibaldi on Saturday. And I'll tell ya, if I had the energy to drive down to Racine, there's a terrific two band bill at the Pub on Wisconsin: 1956 and Snooky. That's a double bill I hope gets repeated in Milwaukee and will be worth booking a sitter for. I'm sure there's more on the books, but it's only Tuesday, and I have an art opening to get ready for.

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