Reflections from a Bossey graduate
Daniel Reffler, who is from the USA, was a recipient of a United Methodist Council of Bishops scholarship. He graduated from the Bossey Ecumenical Institute in January 2019. Below, he shares his reflections on what his Bossey experience means to him, and how he has come to think about ecumenism.
“I didn’t know what I was hoping for when I applied for the Council of Bishops scholarship. Ecumenism was not a part of my background nor had I ever considered myself to be particularly interested in ecumenism. I hardly knew what it was! And yet, something compelled me to apply. I felt drawn to the program because I had a sense that it might form me further into the person whom God has called me to be.”
“One of the first things I realized when I arrived at Bossey is my unique placement among the community: from our cohort of 30 students, I was simultaneously the only person born in the United States and the only native English speaker. Throughout the semester I was prompted internally and externally to wrestle with this dynamic as I gradually became aware of the privilege it afforded me. My language skills gave me an instant and substantial advantage to most of my colleagues in the classroom. This advantage was always present and drastically changed the perceived workload for me as compared to other students. This privilege also affected the way I perceived the voices of others and myself, and it became easy for me to think that my fluency made my voice among the most helpful in the classroom. This realization troubled me, and I worked hard to become aware of the ways I embody my privilege. Through my experiences with my colleagues I began to see clearly that language competency does not equate to intelligence and that responsible class participation requires a wise stewardship of the privilege one carries.”
What can ecumenism teach me?
“The ‘ecumenical lesson’ is: I may not have all the answers, you may not have all the answers, we may not have all the answers, but everyone has something to teach and something to learn. I love this simple observation because it is profound in its implications. The spirit of ecumenism for me is really believing that I have something of value to gain from being in relationship with my brothers and sisters in Christ, that the richness of their traditions have elements worth celebrating. This allows me to genuinely come to the table with a disposition of mutuality that breeds familiarity and ultimately unity. Importantly, such openness does not require me to forsake my own tradition on the altar of common ground, for I too have a rich tradition that has something of value to offer!
Embodying this ecumenical lesson created in me a heart to see the beautiful religious identities in each of my friends and colleagues. I noticed that my notion of faith began to change. Faith was no longer so much a system of belief that I ascribed to because I have absolute certainty about everything, for how can I really believe I have something to learn from others if I already have everything figured out? Rather, I now understand faith as an integral part of my identity that shapes me in ways I believe are true. I must never hold these beliefs so dearly that I close myself off to the teachings of my spiritual brothers and sisters, for Bossey has taught me that I always have something to learn.
This formation has helped me understand my faith in a way that paradoxically strengthens my identity as a United Methodist Christian and radically makes me open to the lessons I have yet to learn from others.”
Catching the ecumenical spirit
“Bossey is an amazingly unique community that blends academic and formational community life so well. One testament to this integration is the fact that I could one minute be led in worship by an Anglican priest from Nigeria, and the next minute be sitting next to him in class as a friend and colleague.
See, Bossey isn’t just about learning ecumenism, it’s about being formed in and catching the ecumenical spirit. This isn’t something that you can learn from books and classes but is something that emerges within you as you encounter people who are different than you and build relationships across cultural, geographic, and religious borders.”