This month I had the opportunity to visit the Ecumenical Institute of the World Council of Churches in Switzerland.
Set in the Chateau de Bossey, a peaceful estate 20km outside of Geneva, the Institute is dedicated to ecumenical theological formation and education.
The primary learning experience at the Institute is through intensive community life. By taking part in communal worship, undertaking both group and individual study and through many personal encounters, the participants teach one another.
I was at the Institute for the WCC event ‘Sharing the faith in a multicultural and multi-faith world’.
I spent two weeks living in community with people from different parts of the world with a wide range of traditional and theological perspectives.
Our group included priests from Orthodox Churches in Romania, Ukraine and Armenia, a man from the Coptic Orthodox Church discerning his call to be a monk, an Old Testament scholar from the United Methodist Church in Romania, as well as ministers from India, Sweden, Denmark, USA and Australia.
The one thing we held in common was our passion for sharing our faith with young people in a very complex world.
Our group stayed together at the Petit Bossey student housing, sharing meals and conversations. This helped create a sense of community and belonging.
Each day the program was full. We began with morning worship, our spiritual nourishment during our communal life together.
At the beginning of the gathering, Rev. Dr Martin Robra from WCC Ecumenical Continuing Formation Program told us, “This event is about creating meaningful spaces for sharing and the participation of young people beyond the boundaries of faiths and cultures. But it all starts with listening.”
During the two weeks, we listened carefully to research and presentations then discussed it in small groups before we gathered again to listen to new perspectives or insights.
Carla Khijoyan shared about her work with the WCC in Egypt. She spoke of the break down in relationships among youth groups dealing with unemployment. Working with key leaders from the WCC, Carla has built relationships with Pope Tawadros II of Coptic Orthodox Church, the International Labour Organisation, the Al Azhar University in Egypt and churches to focus on job creation. Carla stressed the important role of religious leaders and young people in promoting peace through social justice.
Rev. Theo Erbarmen shared the challenges he faced living as a member of a religious minority in South India. He told us how amid the complex social structures that exist, Christians continued to share their faith by feeding children, taking care of the sick, widows, tribal women, empowering school dropouts and caring for Creation.
WCC Deputy General Secretary Fr Prof. Dr Ioan Sauca, who is director of the Ecumenical Institute, reminded us that mission is the sharing of an experience of joy and meaning. Such joy cannot be hidden or used in a selfish, hedonistic way. It creates the internal compulsion of sharing, of letting others also participate in such a joy.
We also heard from two young Jewish women who joyfully shared their identity as Jews living in Switzerland. They spoke about the important roles of their parents and traditions in forming and strengthening their Jewish identity.
As part of the program, we visited Taize in France. Here we joined more than 3500 young pilgrims from around the world.
Coming to Taize is an opportunity to seek communion with God through community prayer and song, personal reflection and sharing.
We were welcomed by a community of brothers who have made a lifelong commitment to follow Christ in community life and celibacy.
It was very moving experience to join in Taize prayer and song with such a diverse group – culturally, linguistically and traditionally.
Going back to Bossey, we discussed three different research projects about young people, Youth on Religion, The Social Lives of Networked Teens and the ‘One Million Voices’ project by the World YMCA, which was rolled out in more than 60 countries through local YMCA structures. The key issues identified as impacting young people today were unemployment, human rights, sexuality and the environment.
I was given the opportunity to share the work of Uniting Church in the multicultural and interfaith space, with particular focus on the importance of creating a space for grace.
The experience in Bossey was amazing, inspiring and encouraging. It reminded me about the universality of the church. We are part of the wider Christian movement in the world and the Spirit of God constantly sustains, renews and reforms us.
Every ministry is unique. It requires critical thinking and reflection on the context of community and social structures. Our theological reflections need to take seriously our context and relationship with First Peoples and the diversity of Second Peoples, multicultural, multi-faith and secular.
Young people live and think differently from previous generations, and the effect of technology in their lives goes beyond our traditional boundaries.
Globally, the majority of young people no longer claim to be atheistic. They are actively involved in ethical action and social movements.
We live in a very diverse community. We need to reconstruct our Christian identity in a multicultural and multi-faith context.
We need to create a space for grace as an entry point for a conversation that enables us to go deeper into the experience of God’s love.