After an extraordinary study semester at the Ecumenical Institute in Bossey, students are now beginning to glimpse towards Christmas, and a season of sharing among a diverse ecumenical community.
The past study semester at the World Council of Churches Ecumenical Institute at Château de Bossey has been unprecedented, as the institute has welcomed a group of 29 students in Ecumenical Studies in the midst of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic – having to adapt continuously to new developments and changing local restrictions, work with new forms of online tuition, and not least careful accompaniment of a group of students coming to Bossey from 22 different countries and 19 different church traditions.
Yet despite the circumstances, studies in Bossey have continued, and as the semester is soon to come to an end, Christmas season is beginning.
Rev. L Shaw La Mong Oo, a student from the Lisu Baptist Convention, Myanmar, expresses hope that Christmas will be a time of sharing across traditions, but also notes the impact of the pandemic on what might have been unique opportunities for the students.
“I hope for a Christmas with students from every denomination, with friendship. I was hoping to be able to go to different denomination’s Christmas services, but it will not be possible,” La Mong Oo notes.
Theodora Mavridou, a student from the Church of Greece continues, “It will be difficult because we will not be able to go to our churches for the Christmas services, and we are away from family, especially those who are far away.”
“But after three months together we have good relationships, it will help. We are a type of family. Since we don't have the possibility to go anywhere else, it will be an extended family, and with the professors, they are a big support for us,” Mavridou says, looking at a Christmas time to be spent in Bossey.
Yet a season of Christmas at Bossey can also be a unique opportunity in itself.
Rev. Lalaina Rajaonah from the Church of Jesus Christ in Madagascar, notes that some students who might have been able to travel home for Christmas have decided to stay in Bossey, to experience the community there over Christmas.
“It's my first Advent with many other traditions, from many countries. We all have our own way to celebrate Christmas. It's interesting now to experience this one way beyond our differences, to try to be all together in unity. It's a unique experience,” Rajaonah reflects.
Melissa Velásquez Erazo, a Pentecostal student from Honduras adds, “Today we have a Christmas carol and a service in the chapel. Someone asked me if I miss my family, and I said that I consider all the other persons here like my family. I really like this new ecumenical family.”
The academic dean of the Ecumenical Institute, Rev. Fr Dr Lawrence Iwuamadi, looks back at the challenges and adaptations this group of students has faced during the past semester, but also how the group has managed to form a strong community while pursuing their academic studies.
“This period in the life of the Ecumenical Institute has been special and difficult in many ways of course,” Iwuamadi reflects. “Yet it is heartwarming to see that we can come together as a group even in such circumstances to support one another, and now to experience together the tender story of hope that Christmas offers to us, and which rests at the heart of all our different traditions.”