Ecumenical Formation in Bossey: The Holistic and Inclusive Model of Academic Study and Research, Life in Community and Shared Spirituality

By Sauca, Ioan | The Ecumenical Review, January 2005 | Go to article overview

Ecumenical Formation in Bossey: The Holistic and Inclusive Model of Academic Study and Research, Life in Community and Shared Spirituality


Sauca, Ioan, The Ecumenical Review


The beginnings of the Bossey Ecumenical Institute are closely related to the period of the formation of the World Council of Churches. Visser't Hooft, one of the great pioneers of the modern ecumenical movement and the first general secretary of the WCC, had the vision of an international centre where people could meet and discuss reconciliation and the healing of memories in the context of the scars, hatred, antagonisms and divisions brought about by the second world war. An 18th century mansion known as "Chateau de Bossey" was found, situated in the quiet outskirts of Geneva. In the Middle Ages, the land belonged to a nearby Cistercian monastery and the search for spirituality on these grounds had a long tradition. In fact, to this day the whole region around Bossey is called "The Holy Land"--La Terre Sainte.

In October 1946, the Ecumenical Institute was officially opened, two years prior to the foundation of the WCC. Initially, the chateau was only rented. It was only in 1950 that, with a substantial grant given by the committed American Baptist layman John D. Rockefeller, Jr, the chateau was bought by the WCC.

The graduate school, in cooperation with the University of Geneva, was inaugurated in 1952. During its first fifty years of existence, a total number of 2,442 students, lay and ordained, men and women, from all over the world, from a variety of cultures, churches and Christian confessions, have attended the courses of the graduate school. Another estimated 20,000 have attended the short-term seminars or have come to Bossey either individually or with visiting study groups. The impact Bossey has had on the lives of those who have had the Bossey experience is impressive. After their return home, many have become known ecumenical leaders, presidents of churches, bishops, cardinals or patriarchs, professors of theology, members of governments, leading figures in cultural or business fields etc.

Ecumenical formation at Bossey has a dynamic feature. Students coming from all over the world have brought with them the many challenges the churches were faced with in different contexts. They expected to find adequate answers on how to respond to issues concretely on a local level. If one has a look at the themes that have been debated and reflected upon during the more than fifty years of graduate schools, one can easily see the reflection of the acute problems of the world that faced churches in this period and the attempt of Bossey to give an ecumenical formation related always to a concrete world context.

While ecumenical teaching in Bossey has constantly developed, a major shift took place recently at the beginning of the third Christian millennium. As a result of these changes and improvements, there are many who speak today of a "new Bossey".

The ecumenical formation of laity in Bossey is multifaceted and is done throughout the year. The most structured programmes, however, are the short-term seminars, which have been reshaped with a strengthened and more focused approach and a renewed methodology. Subjects have been proposed for discussion and reflection that represent the delicate and at times difficult challenges that confront the churches and present-day societies. Topics such as human sexuality, genetic engineering, the "new age" and the mission of the church etc. have been included in the agenda of Bossey, which has offered a free and safe academic platform to people to meet, study, reflect and discuss. Due to such endeavours, Bossey continues its role and vocation of avant-garde of the ecumenical movement. Although this aspect of lay formation through short-term courses continues to be vital and important for Bossey, I will concentrate in what follows on formal, academic and longer term ecumenical formation.

New challenges, new responses: the present day structure of ecumenical formation in Bossey

At the end of the 20th century, it became evident that ecumenical teaching had to be adapted to the present-day situation and expectations of both the churches and students interested in studying in Bossey. …

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