If you've ever passed the St. Demiana Coptic Orthodox Church on White Lane and marveled at the beauty of its exterior, just wait until you get a look inside. This weekend, you can.
The church will hold its annual two-day Coptic Festival on Saturday and Sunday, with authentic Middle Eastern food, church tours, games, photo opportunities and more.
"We want to get acquainted with people," said Inas Michael, member of the church and festival volunteer. "For them to see the church and know who we are, so we invite our community."
For many, the main draw of the festival is the food, Michael said. Whether you're a meat lover or vegan, there's sure to be something you enjoy, including shish kebabs, stuffed grape leaves, baklava, a tahini dip, falafel, gyros and more.
"People like them all," Michael said when asked if there was a crowd favorite. "Some like to experiment (and try something new)."
Part of the festival is a tour of the church, painted just as beautifully inside, and an informational video, which will give a brief history of the Coptic church in general and of the local one specifically. The Coptic Orthodox Church of Alexandria is one of the oldest Christian churches, dating back to ancient Egypt in 42 AD and believed to be established by Saint Mark.
St. Demiana started in the mid-1980s, Michael said, when a couple of families moved to Bakersfield from the Los Angeles area, and it's grown steadily ever since. Now with 150 families and two priests, Fathers Daniel Azer Sous and Beshoy Dawood, the predominately Egyptian congregation has gone from meeting in rented spaces to having a church of its own, the land for it bought in 2002. The first phase was built in 2004 and the second, the ornate painted building drivers can see as they pass by on the busy street, was built in 2013.
"I think it's good to have fellowship with members in our community," Michael said, adding that people are often intrigued by the church and visiting it is a good way to learn about it. "The fear of something you don't know, it's not there anymore ... Once we explain what our faith is, they see a lot of common ground. We like to build on the similarities more than the differences."
The tours, which will happen every hour on the hour from noon to 5 p.m. both days, are Michael's favorite part of the festival, she said, though it's hard for her to pick. She said she likes working with the church's youth to put on the tours and meeting other people in the community.
The festival also includes crafts, games, a bookshop and the opportunity to take a photo with the kings and queens of Egypt.
The festival has been held for seven years and gets a turnout in the upper hundreds, Michael said. Run by volunteers at the church, it has grown each year. And with each festival, more people in Bakersfield know all about the church they pass on White Lane.