Ecumenical Institute at Bossey

The Ecumenical Institute at Bossey is the international centre for encounter, dialogue and formation of the World Council of Churches. Founded in 1946, the Institute brings together people from diverse churches, cultures and backgrounds for ecumenical learning, academic study and personal exchange.

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A short history

Bossey refers to a place but also brings to mind people, namely the worldwide group of former participants in programmes of the Ecumenical Institute of the World Council of Churches (WCC).

The place is a quiet estate some 20 kms from Geneva, with the necessary proximity to yet distance from the busy headquarters of international Christian organizations, United Nations agencies and Geneva University, with which the institute is academically affiliated. Course participants - laity and clergy, students and leaders in church and society from all over the world - leave the Ecumenical Institute committed to the ecumenical vision. They are involved in difficult frontier situations, and in leadership positions in churches and in civil society on all continents.

W.A. Visser 't Hooft, the first general secretary of the WCC, who initiated Bossey, said at its inauguration in 1946: "The Institute's programme has three main subjects: the Bible, the world, the church universal." In order to hold these vast focuses together and to initiate creative thinking and training, he called on Hendrik Kraemer and Suzanne de Dietrich as the first leadership team. In the post-war situation the programme concentrated on up to three-month courses for lay training and youth leaders. Alongside these shorter seminars on ethics were held for people from the same profession, e.g. teachers, medical doctors, trade-union leaders, social workers, artists, pastors. The study of different confessional famili es was also emphasized.

New demands of biblical faith and the changing situation in the world and the churches have led to several shifts in both the ways of ecumenical learning and the content of studies. Specialized one-week seminars now usually take up subjects of current ecumenical study and action projects. Since 1952 much time and energy has gone into the annual four-month session of the graduate school of ecumenical studies. From 2000, master's and doctoral programmes were begun in cooperation with the University of Geneva.

Each new director and team of resident teaching staff have contributed to the learning facilities and the range of explorations at the Ecumenical Institute. Thus in the 1960s and 1970s Eastern Orthodoxy and a strong interdisciplinary approach was emphasized under the leadership of the Greek Orthodox theologian N.A. Nissiotis. When an Anglican from Kenya, J.S. Mbiti, became director, the accent shifted to intercultural meetings and the dialogue of theologies currently developing in different continents. The members of the present teaching team represent the Orthodox, Roman Catholic and Protestant traditions, and there are plans to strengthen the faculty.

The primary learning experience at the Ecumenical Institute is the intensive community life where, in common worship, corporate and individual studies and many personal encounters, the participants teach one another. Often unconscious cultural and confessional presuppositions are questioned, and racial and sexist prejudices uncovered and struggled with. Deep convictions of faith confront each other and are tested. Gradually, through pain and shared joys a temporary, limited learning community grows in the search for a fuller truth, and glimpses the unity to which Christians aspire.

Adapted from an article by Hans-Ruedi Weber in the Dictionary of the Ecumenical Movement, WCC, 2002.