Greetings from Petit-Bossey, my new home for the next five months! It’s nice after a busy couple of weeks of orientation and starting classes, to find a quiet moment to blog about my time at Bossey so far.
I’ll be sharing lots in the months ahead about what I’m studying, the people I’m studying alongside, and what life is like at this wonderful “laboratory for ecumenical life” snuggled between the Jura mountains and the shores of Lake Geneva. For now, here’s a short introduction to the shape of the community here this year, and the classes I have to look forward to.
Who we are!
As our Academic Dean, Fr Lawrence, shared in his post for the WCC (World Council of Churches) last week, I’m particularly struck by what a joyful sign of hope the community gathered here represents. In the midst of a global pandemic and against the odds, we are here together from all over the world enjoying all that Bossey has to offer!
Not everyone is here yet (please do pray for those still battling the process for visas and flights), but once fully gathered we will represent between us 26 countries and 21 denominations.
So far we are 29 people (14 women, 15 men) gathered from China, Egypt, Georgia, Germany, Greece, Honduras, Hungary, Madagascar, Mexico, Myanmar, the Philippines, Romania, Russia, Sierra Leone, South Korea, Sweden, Thailand, Ukraine, the United Kingdom, the United States of America, and Zimbabwe.
We represent a broad range of traditions from Orthodox to Roman Catholic, Protestant to Pentecostal, and little ol’ me representing the Church of England, and this year the only student from the Anglican Communion.
Alongside the students we have a wonderful team here at Bossey of staff and faculty, with whom we form a large ecumenical family. It has been a delight to begin to get to know them a little too, over lunch, around the site and in the classroom. A particular thanks to the wonderful catering team who are keeping us so well fed (the cakes are particularly good!), and to our excellent housekeeping team helping us keep Petit-Bossey as clean and safe as can be during the pandemic.
What I’m studying
Again, there’ll be lots more to come on this in the weeks ahead, but as I’ve chosen my modules and got started with timetabled classes, I thought I’d share what I’ll be covering in the classroom while here:
The History of the Ecumenical Movement: This is our core course, looking at the nature of church divisions, the history of ecumenism in the 20th and 21st centuries, how the different church traditions and global regions engage with ecumenism, what different areas of ecumenical theology and mission look like (with special foci on disability theology, ecumenical education, peace and ecological justice), and how the ecumenical movement engages with people of other faiths (including traditional African religions and various indigenous spiritualities).
I’m so excited to take this course. It’s precisely the kind of theology I love doing – practically focussed, contextually aware and thoroughly kingdom orientated. Expect lots more blog posts to spring from material we cover here!
Workshop on Intercultural Bible Studies: I did a lot of formal biblical studies in my undergrad degree and as a result haven’t done much formally in recent years whilst my focus has been on my PhD in systematics. This module has already been such a refreshingly new and life-filled way to study Scripture. We’re going to be spending a lot of time thinking about how hermeneutics is shaped by culture and context, and in such a diverse classroom this module will be fascinating. Fr Lawrence is teaching this, and he’s joy embodied, so it should be lots of fun too!
Workshop on Practical Ecumenical Theology: Practical theology at Bossey means a lot of time thinking about prayer and liturgy and how we do that well in an ecumenical context. So as I’m also currently finishing a PhD on prayer, this module is right up my street – we’ll be reflecting together especially on our shared morning prayer, which we gather for most days. A Methodist friend and I had the delight of leading the first of the student-led prayers this week. It was a particular delight to share this task with Karla, having fallen in love with ecumenism largely alongside my Methodist friends at Welsey House in Cambridge.
As a community, we’re already learning so much from one another here simply by praying together and inhabiting each other’s styles and traditions. The Lutherans are leading our prayer tomorrow, and on Tuesday we’ll be led by our brother from Zimbabwe, in the tradition of the Church of Christ.
Intensive Seminar on Interreligious Hermeneutics: Each year Bossey puts on an intensive module for the Certificate programme I’m on, so many of us will be taking this module on interreligious hermeneutics. We’re going to be looking at how Christians and Muslims read their scriptures, exploring points of difference and similarity. Because we come from such varied places around the world, as a student body we’ve had a mix of contact with the Islamic faith. Some of my new friends come from places where their main contact with Islam is from the unrepresentative radicalism of Islamic extremists, whilst others come from places where they know Muslims as close friends. There’ll be lots to learn from and about each other in this class, I suspect, and I’m really looking forward to it.
Optional Module on Ecumenical Missiology: I have to take one optional module alongside the compulsory classes. Having not yet met (academically) the mission requirement of my ordination training needs, I’m choosing to study missiology while I’m here. And I’m so glad I made that choice. One of my classmates has lovingly nicknamed me ‘Coloniser’ since his home country experienced British colonisation and all that came with that. It’s all tongue-in-cheek of course, and largely inspired by Black Panther, but it’s so important to be learning about mission in this context where the reality of what mission has meant in recent history is known and felt deeply by many in the room, for good and for ill. It’s a privilege to be studying this module in this context.
Audited Module on Ecumenical Theology: I couldn’t turn down the option to audit a module on systematic theology when the offer was presented, so I’m also taking ecumenical theology whilst I’m here. It’s going to be a really fun module, especially as someone who’s keen to be teaching theology in years to come. I’m excited to learn what it means to really seek to do theology ecumenically, rather than simply by comparing our different traditions. And there’ll be plenty of rich debate – topics to cover include: the church, baptism, holy communion, ordained and lay ministry, and whether the church’s division is a mark of sin. I’m expecting strong opinions, and looking forward to learning lots from friends in other traditions.
It’s not all work!
And finally, lest it seems life at Bossey is all work and no play, we’re also having plenty of fun outside the classroom. In just two weeks we’ve had three birthdays to celebrate and we’ve discovered that as a group we throw a mean party. Lots of singing songs from our cultures (I’ve resorted to Queen quite a bit – they seem popular and well known!), the chance to taste real Mexican tequila and super-hot Thai ramen, and a lot of laughter.
All in all, I’m making excellent friends, and it’s truly a delight and privilege to be here.
More to come soon!