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Institute for ecumenical formation expanding educational approach for multi-faith world

May 24, 2011
Since 1946, the Ecumenical Institute at Bossey, near Geneva, Switzerland, has served as a premier theological education institution for shaping ecumenical formation. But new challenges for ecumenical formation today are leading the 65-year-old program to make some adaptations for the 21st Century.

“Our students told us we needed to change our approach in order to be more relevant in today’s world,” said Dr. Ioan Sauca, professor and director of the Institute at Bossey.

Dr. Sauca spoke to a group of faculty, students, and guests at Louisville Presbyterian Theological Seminary, Tuesday, May 17. He was invited to the campus for a special conversation, hosted by Dr. Cliff Kirkpatrick, Visiting Professor of Ecumenical Studies and Global Ministries, and sponsored through the Seminary’s Doors to Dialogue (D2D) Program.

Sauca said that especially after 2000, students were coming from all over the world, bringing with them so many perspectives in theology, ministry, and interfaith relations. “We could no longer maintain ‘business as usual,’” he said.

So, in his presentation, Sauca outlined four initiatives that are expanding the Institute’s core approach in providing holistic education that combines academic research with cross-cultural learning through community life; spiritual experience; exposure to and encounters with other faith communities; and a practical experience in eco-theology and sustainable development.

He believes this direction will address several areas.

“Our students want to know what it means to be Christian in a multi-faith society. They need to learn how to serve alongside and among different faith traditions…Jewish, Hindu, Muslim, and Buddhist,” said Sauca, stressing that the Institute’s educational program maintains a strong Christo-centric base without being aggressive or offensive to others.

Sauca also said that incoming students are longing for more spirituality as part of their experience, “so, our chapel is becoming a stronger center of formation,” he said.

Added to this, the Institute is broadening its enrollment to include students from rapidly growing countries that are Evangelical, Pentecostal, and non-ecumenical, nearly one third of the world, he said. Previously, the Institute only enrolled students from its World Council of Churches membership.

Finally, Sauca said they have added two new subjects that are teaching students how to lead communities in overcoming poverty and developing sustainable systems for long-term survival. This spiritual and eco-theological approach is in response to the natural disasters that have devastated surrounding countries.

“Caring for the environment must be part of a holistic approach to ecumenical formation,” he said, adding that the development of 18 acres on the Institute’s property is providing hands-on experience for the modeling and leadership that students will take to their countries.

“The dynamic of the world today compels us to continue in this way,” he said. “These multi-faith churches are growing, and our students must be prepared to lead side by side.”

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