Nobody seems to understand what I´m supposed to be doing in Geneva. The name World Council of Churches brings about blank stares. Well, not from everybody. My Christian friends recognize the name, but not so very much more.
I am determined to do something about this ignorance. And also to brush up on my own knowledge. Admittedly, I have been to the Ecumenical Centre before. But that was quite a long time ago, a meeting in the days of Sam Kobia.
I was also at the WCC Central Committee meeting in Trondheim in 2016. But of everyday life at the Ecumenical Centre, I know nothing.
So I set off, hop on a plane (this is of course in pre-coronavirus times) and, aided by a very informative set of directions from Claus Grue, I easily find the number 5 bus. In no time at all I present myself at the reception desk at the center.
Here Marianne Ejdersten greets me, together with a string of other people. They have all been forewarned, it seems. In fact, all through my visit I meet people who have been advised of my coming. It is a little overwhelming, and rather impressive, in a place where visitors come and go all the time.
But the Communications department is determined to make the most of my short visit. So, I embark on a journey that starts with an hour of bare facts and sightseeing through the center, goes on with ecumenical tea and introductions, a late night dinner and then, blessed bed.
Next day I have six one-hour interviews lined up, plus a luncheon meeting. Six! I have sometimes a rather short span of attention, and anyhow there is no way that all that time and energy bestowed on me will correspond with the amount of space my text will be given. A page and a half at the most, I fear.
When I reveal this, it turns out it doesn’t matter. The machinery is working, and at least I will turn out more knowledgeable at the other end.
I find that things are much more relaxed than I would have thought. Very different personalities, very different topics fill my day. I learn about health work, ecumenical history, youth questions, the Bossey institute, the upcoming world meeting, working with indigenous people, theology, communication guidelines and, of course the role of the WCC in the world.
I am – of course -not quite able to stay on top of it all. But business cards are pressed into my hands, leaflets and books pile up on my temporary desk. The enthusiasm of everybody is catching.
It also makes me suspicious. Are there vile arguments going on behind closed doors? Sighs of frustration further down the corridor? There has to be- for this Shangri-La is simply too good to be true.
Or perhaps not. Next morning I am taken on a tour of the famous Bossey institute with its impressive castle. And all those mountains. They are mind-blowing. Perhaps they make people imposing too, and teach us humility. Our place in the universe.
And with that, and many, many thanks, I will stop; before I actually start preaching.
Annika Ahlefelt traveled to the Ecumenical Centre in February to learn more about the ecumenical movement as a journalist from one of Sweden’s leading church magazines.