Master of Divinity student reflects on her intensive semester of study at the Ecumenical Institute of Bossey

November 20, 2017

The School of Theology and Ministry’s Master of Divinity student Melissa (Missy) Trull is attending the Ecumenical Institute of Bossey for an intensive semester of study. Missy is studying with 30 students from 22 different countries. (For more information see previous article here.) 

In Missy’s first week, she attended a conference for Ecumenical Officers at Bossey Institute. She had the opportunity to meet and speak with two leaders from the communities that support her time at Bossey: Reverend Paul Tche, President of the office for Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs of the Disciples of Christ and Reverend Margaret Rose, Director of Ecumenical and Interreligious Relations for the Episcopal Church, USA. Missy reflects, “It was an absolute joy and honor to spend time with them both in person. Margaret Rose and I were able to get a photo together, which is below!”

Missy has begun to work on two research papers: one in Missiology and the other in Social Ethics. Outside of class, she spends time with her classmates, and has shared this reflection on her time at Bossey thus far: 

Last night I went on an evening jog with two Orthodox colleagues, one from Georgia and the other from Russia. There is a path that loops West from Petit Bossey (our housing quarters) and runs through a tunnel of trees. When you immerge from the tunnel, the landscapes opens up to Swiss mountains framed by Lake Geneva and golden fields of wheat. The path curves North through more tunnels of trees and comes back around to our temporary home, Petit Bossey (see photo below).

On this particular evening, the autumn colors turned from gold to pink to a cool blue throughout the hour of our run. As we began our run, we talked about the food we ate for dinner and laughed about the “kilos” (a measurement I am only beginning to get accustomed to) we will most certainly gain during the Winter months. We sang American songs as we ran to try and distract ourselves from the miles, or Kilometers. While we stretched, we started talking about confession. We tried to list the different theologies of confession among the various traditions represented here at Bossey—Orthodox confession, Catholic, Anglican, and Protestant—the purpose and meaning of confession in the various traditions. While doing squats and ab exercises, the conversation wandered into something personal. We shared about our own complex relationships with confession, stories about confession and plurality within our various traditions when it comes to the actual practice of confession. As things tend to go here, our conversation then turned to power and politics. With my Georgian and Russian colleagues, we found ourselves on the topic power in religious priesthood and how that power manifests in society through confession and through policy. The conversation became serious and painful while talking about the complex and heartbreaking land conflicts between their two countries —the Russian’s pain was about disillusionment and loyalty; The Georgian’s pain was about an experience of loss, and my own pain was one of helplessness.

Ecumenism here at Bossey is a lived experience. It is happening while we run together, while we eat together, while we play volleyball or make decisions about how to clean together. Discussions from class extend and expand through literally living each day together. I am finding this kind of learning holistic and life changing. Sometimes these expansive conversations touch the deepest heartaches happening in our countries and personal lives—gun violence, human rights issues, land occupation, racism, sexism, classism, and more. But if I have learned one thing so far, it is that Ecumenism is, now in the world, Counter-cultural—it is about prioritizing togetherness above progress, and this is important. Our aim in being together is not to convert one another or even to solve world problems; the main point is to be together and stay in relationship with one another through these difficult encounters. So, although we may not come to consensus, we remain together bearing witness to one another and finding relief and connection in shared values. For me, this act of bearing witness, of genuine presence, is an act of transformation.

My closest friend here is a pastor and theologian from Mexico City, Mexico. Russians and Ukrainians run together. An East Indonesian student walks daily to class with a West Indonesian student. Students from Nigeria interact with Muslim guests who come to Bossey for conferences and meetings.  In class and conversation, each of us now learns how to navigate the complex boundaries our diverse origins represent, which are more than physical—they are emotional, linguistic, cultural, political, doctrinal—and these boundaries make some conversations challenging. Yet, engaging these boundaries enables this group of diverse individuals to come together in the name of Unity, which inspired many of us to come here in the first place. Our shared conviction about God provides a profound dedication to one another, a dedication that enables us to engage in conversations and continued relationship even when we disagree on some of our deepest social and political convictions. Of course, these convictions are not left behind, but tenderly and carefully we seek continued relationship. Why? Because this was Jesus Prayer? Yes, definitely. But also because it answers, I believe, a deep call, a timid desire to hold meaningful relationships across pluralities of truth. The volleyball helps, the meals help, the running together, walking together, playing games together helps. I am learning here that ecumenical dialogue requires collegiality, a spirit of friendship and praying together.

More reflections to come….

-Missy Trull