Chateau de Bossey: how a vibrant community rose and still thrives today

Photo: Albin Hillert/WCC

The WCC’s Ecumenical Institute was inaugurated in 1946 at the scenic Château de Bossey, on Lake Geneva. It draws students from churches within and outside the WCC and enables direct contact with people of different faiths each year.

“Bossey is indeed a place which transforms lives. But a place is important as long as there are people there with ecumenical memory and commitment. There is a saying that ‘people make a place holy and sacred, ” said Fr Prof. Dr Ioan Sauca, WCC deputy general secretary and director of the Ecumenical Institute at Bossey.

The Chateau de Bossey is at the heart of the World Council of Churches (WCC) – the one ecumenical movement in the world with 350 member churches in 120 countries, and representing 580 million Christians. The WCC was founded 23 August 1948 in Amsterdam - but Bossey is older and played an important role to bring the stakeholders together.

The Chateau de Bossey is playing three very important roles in the life of the WCC as:

- The Ecumenical Institute with students from all over the world, with close collaboration with universities and seminars and especially with the University of Geneva. The faculty is led by professors from different parts of the world. Right now the dean is Catholic and from Nigeria.

- The leading Ecumenical library in the world.

- A conference venue and hotel - open for all.

In the same day, you maybe meeting bankers in the lobby, church leaders in the chapel and students in the garden. Many languages are spoken at the same time. The world is moving into this paradise.

During the summer, students are gathered from various religions for the annual Interreligious Summer School or the English Summer Course. Some of the students don’t have basic knowledge of the English language before they arrive.

They are living in a student community in Bossey. They are working, praying and walking together. Some of the students are also experience snow for the first time in their lives when they are visiting the French Alps or hiking in the Swiss mountains. The students are sponsored from scholarships funded in many cases by donations from Swiss churches.

The Ecumenical Institute, established in October 1946, has been called a “pre-history” of the WCC. It was founded, in part, by the ecumenical vision of the Swiss Adolf Keller, one of the pioneers of the Federation of Swiss Protestant Churches.

The first general secretary of the WCC was the Dutch Willhelm Visser´t Hooft, who got a grant of $500,000 from Baptist Nelson Rockefeller, when they where looking for a home for the future Ecumenical Institute, whose mission would be to equip lay people engaged in the reconstruction of Europe and in the renewal and unity of the churches.

Rockefeller’s grant to Bossey, which was not the last one, reminds me that the relationship of bankers with the ecumenical movement may deserve further research. Geneva’s Georges Lombard was the first treasurer of Bossey; the Pictet bankers, also from Geneva, generously contributed to the renovation of the Bossey library in recent years; and J. P. Morgan had been, back in 1910, the first treasurer of the Movement for a World Conference on Faith and Order. Lombard and fellow banker Gustav Hentsch, along with Visser 't Hooft, registered the Ecumenical Church Loan Fund in 1946, and further capital was endowed by Rockefeller.

The Céligny historian Guillaume Fatio helped Visser ‘t Hooft in his search for the building. He suggested the “Château de Bossey,” then owned by Colonel Fernand Chenevière, as a possibility.  Bossey had once been under the Catholic Monastery Bonmont. Visser ‘t Hooft did not find the place unforgettable, on a cold, foggy winter afternoon, “we found a house which looked rather dirty and rundown.” But after imagining how Bossey would look like “on a nice summer day,” himself and Mackie said to each other: “This is it.”

When it comes, the moment of describing the inauguration of Bossey, they become indeed lyric: “and behold, in the sumptuous panorama of autumnal nature, the great day of 25 October 1946, which sees the crowning of the efforts of the pioneers. The Ecumenical Institute is officially inaugurated…”

This is history, but an important part of the ecumenical legacy, and we are today writing the next chapters of the history of the WCC.

If the first general secretary Visser´t Hooft  found Bossey, the current general secretary Rev. Dr Olav Fykse Tveit established the Green Village – one of the largest real estate projects on sustainability in this part of Switzerland.

The WCC means – the world as our field, we are working for a better world for all: one world and one humanity. We are walking, praying and working together!

Related links

Ecumenical Institute of Bossey

Hotel and Conference

Green Village

About the author :

Marianne Ejdersten was appointed as director for Communication at the World Council of Churches in November 2014. Coming from the Church of Sweden (Lutheran), Ejdersten holds more than 25 years of professional experience in the fields of communication, media, marketing, fundraising and management, both with the churches and international ecumenical organizations.

Ejdersten has authored a number of articles published in several publications across the globe. She was co-author of The Churches and IT, a publication of the Church of Sweden and a special report titled Women and Internet.

Ejdersten and her team were honoured with the Grand Prix and Gold EPICA 2009 award for conducting the best integrated and interactive campaign "The Prayer" in Europe, as well as the Swedish Publishing Award for reporting in 2012, among other honours she has received for her work in the field of media.

The WCC  was honoured as a top non-governmental organization for its work during 2022, receiving the first-place Geneva Engage Award,  for effective and inspiring social media outreach and engagement.

Ejdersten has been the president of the Swedish Fellowship of Reconciliation (SweFOR) and vice president for the European branch of the Word Association for Christian Communication (WACC). Currently serving as the president for Church of Sweden Switzerland 2021-. 

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The impressions expressed in the blog posts are the contributions of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the opinion or policies of the World Council of Churches.