Twenty-nine students from 22 different countries and 19 different church traditions earned post-graduate Certificates in Ecumenical Studies. They not only adapted to an ecumenical life but also adapted continuously to new developments and changing restrictions related to COVID-19.
“This generation has undoubtedly been challenged in every aspect by the historical moment we live in, facing constant changes resulting from the pandemic and adapting to it all,” reflected Rev. Karla Selene Evangelista Segoviano from Methodist Church of Mexico.
Given the reality of physical distancing across the world, Segoviano said it’s even more important to continue ecumenical work back home. “And another challenge in the Bossey experience was the lack of participants from Latin America, so now it is also a task for us to encourage and support other participants from Latin America more closely and to share our ecumenical experience,” she said. “In a context as diverse in all aspects as Mexico is, it is essential to share and create new experiences that lead us to increase the ecumenical family, without uniformity, but with unity.”
From COVID-19 restrictions to language barriers, from understanding new theologies to cultural differences, Bossey students worked through it all to form a closely-knit group. “It was a dream come true, meeting people from over 22 countries under one roof,” said Rev. Moses Jigba from the Republic of Sierra Leone and New Jerusalem Ministries International. “Many ideas were new to me. Too much information on a compressed time was a big challenge to overcome.”
But, Jigba added, by the time he graduated he was prepared to bring forth ideas he learned at Bossey to share with others. "These experiences gained will be well-implemented,” he said.
Sebastian Mense from the Federal Republic of Germany, Evangelical-Lutheran Church Württemberg, said cultural and political divisions were, at first, obstacles. “Some of the most difficult obstacles I have encountered were divides – not in theology but culture and politics that threaten a lived-out common witness and weaken the revelation we encounter in our one Lord, Jesus Christ,” he said. “Bossey has given me the opportunity to encounter truly different thinking and living in Christ that can only strengthen and broaden my own church back home.”
Studying at Bossey helped the students live into their own definitions of Christian unity. “It also made clear that Christian unity and ecumenical work goes far beyond my own history, beyond Roman Catholic and Lutheran divides,” said Mense. “Our family is as colourful and diverse as humanity and my church needs to partake in this fullness at every level.”
Students also deeply appreciated being able to complete their rigorous studies amid the beautiful mountains of Switzerland. “Switzerland is my dream country,” said Phontip Phanthakitphaibun from the Church of Christ in Thailand. "It is a country that I have always dreamed of going to before death.”
Most important, she added, Bossey provided an opportunity to serve God in a broader way.
A day before their graduation ceremony, the students met online with representatives of some Roman dicasteries, including the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development and Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue. They also took part via streaming in the Vespers presided over by Cardinal Kurt Koch for the closing of the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity.
“I will take my knowledge and experience gained at Bossey back to my home church and community,” she said. “I will share with them and make them understand, accept and respect other Christian denominations.”
Out into the world
As the students accepted their certificates, Rev. Fr Dr Lawrence Iwuamadi, academic dean of the Ecumenical Institute, advised them that the real impact of Bossey starts the moment one leaves Bossey. “If it is true that each academic year at Bossey is unique, the 2020-2021 academic year might be the most unique for obvious reasons,” he said. “Our hope and prayers for them: that they make the best of the knowledge they have acquired, their experiences, the rich friendships, the challenges and joys they have freely shared and exchanged in the past months, transforming them into meaningful foundations for future engagement in the pilgrimage of justice and peace in their communities and contexts.”
Iwuamadi added: “We pray that God guides their journeys back to their families, people and churches.”