By Peter Kenny
Students graduating at mountain-framed Bossey on the banks of Lake Geneva have admitted that the decision to come to the World Council of Churches (WCC) Ecumenical Institute was not easy, but they left as a family with proof "that Christian unity can be lived."
At the 28 January graduation ceremony, receiving the Complementary Certificate in Ecumenical Studies, Romanian Orthodox student Alin-Cristian Ivaniciuc read the message for his class of 2019-2020.
"The reality of making the decision to come to Bossey was hard. Let's be honest, this place is strange, we are deep in the woods in a separate far off place.”
Yet, "through dialogue, through classes, through meals and through helping us find trust in you and in each other – you have proven to us that Christian unity can be lived," said Ivaniciuc on behalf of his class.
"Every day was practical ecumenical theology in the classroom, the living room, and in the chapel."
'Most diverse group'
Members of churches from nearby local communities and supporters of Christian unity, as well as WCC senior staff, attended the ceremony.
Rev. Fr Dr Lawrence Iwuamadi, dean of the Ecumenical Institute, noted, "Since my joining the faculty in 2012, the 2019/2020 students are the most diverse group – 32 students coming from 23 churches and from 19 countries, with almost equal numbers women and men."
And after a long period when students tended to come from the Global South, he said there was a significant representation of people from Europe and the United States.
Among the 32 students who started the 2019-2020 academic year in September 2019, 19 countries were represented. These include China, Cuba, Georgia, India, Indonesia, Italy, Kenya, Korea, Madagascar, Nigeria, Romania, Serbia, Sierra Leone, Sri Lanka, Sweden, Switzerland, Thailand, Ukraine, and the United States of America.
"The deeper meaning of what has taken place at Bossey comes only after you leave. Remember, ecumenism is a way of life. Ecumenism is real…. I have no doubts you have what it takes to work for a better world and for the visible unity of churches. As you leave Bossey, we urge you to be 'ambassadors of love and unity'," said Iwuamadi.
During his sermon in the chapel based on Paul's letter to the Ephesians (4:1-8) based on "unity in Christ," Prof. Dr Benjamin Simon, the outgoing professor of Ecumenical Missiology urged the students to appreciate the privilege they had to be at Bossey but to remain humble.
“Don't think you have the answers, don't think you have one over others… stay humble and respectful to others – especially to those who have different opinions to you. God has not created us in uniformity."
For the students from different Christian traditions, including Orthodoxy, Pentecostalism, Protestantism, and Roman Catholicism, WCC general secretary Rev. Dr Olav Fykse Tveit noted now is a time "I think the world will need those people who have faith."
"We do not have only a faith based on the historical tradition coming from Jesus Christ. We have a faith that is looking into the future, and we expect to meet Jesus Christ. And what is coming might create fear in many of us.
"But who will keep the faith and say that Jesus is Lord? You are those who will keep the faith. So, continue your journey. This is the place where you have strengthened your faith and where you can move forward in faith."
The Ecumenical Institute draws students and researchers from around the world for residential academic study that focusses on pressing issues in the ecumenical movement and the world through studies in ecumenical theology, missiology, social ethics and ecumenical hermeneutics.
Fr Prof. Ioan Sauca is WCC deputy general secretary and director of the Institute whose diplomas are recognized by the University of Geneva, and he noted the rigorous process students undergo.
University of Geneva
The dean of the University of Geneva's faculty of theology, Prof Dr Ghislain Waterlot, presided in handing out the diplomas and praised the institution in a speech.
"Bossey is one of the places par excellence" where this much-needed work God's of love can be manifested.
"This is one of the reasons why the Faculty of Theology of the University of Geneva believes that what links it to the Bossey Institute is very precious.
"Our faculty is very happy to work with the Institute and to continue our collaboration fully, to meet with you as regularly as possible. It is not a collaboration that weighs; it is not a constraint; it is not even a duty; it is an ever-renewed joy," he said.