Last September, we announced that Master of Divinity student Linda Gasparovic was leaving for Geneva, Switzerland to study at The Ecumenical Institute at Bossey on full scholarship as a part of a new program. Read more from our initial announcement, here?including some lovely words from Linda about her passion for dialogue.
Participation in this special program was made possible through the generosity of individual donors and friends of Seattle University?s School of Theology and Ministry. The scholarship is itself a picture of multiple faith traditions working together in dialogue, as individuals from varied Christian traditions contributed to the opportunity together. The Ecumenical Institute at Bossey is one of the few learning communities in the world that was intentionally designed to encourage and foster deep dialogue across Christian faith traditions, like that of Seattle University?s School of Theology and Ministry.
We caught up with Linda this past month to learn more about how the opportunity impacted her learning and to hear a few stories from the experience. Linda penned a few blog posts during her time at Bossey and posted some lovely photos as well as a video or two. Check them out, here.
?Linda shared with us:
"The most valuable element of the Bossey experience for me was living amongst a community of students from around the world. While I am an introvert, this did provide opportunities to connect with others outside of the classroom and learn about their cultures and faith communities. It was also a great 'hands-on' experience of the challenge of multicultural interaction that helps underscore the importance of skills learned in the school?s courses Ministry in a Multicultural Context and Fostering Communities of Faith. In both our community life and the classroom, one could recognize power dynamics at work, even if on an unconscious level. I found myself continually returning to Eric Law?s suggestions for ?invitation? when it comes to group dynamics."
With the diversity of students participating in the program, Linda had a few unique opportunities to collaborate across differences.
"We formed a music committee for the first time in the history of Bossey, which helped forge relationships between musicians of varying cultures and denominations. While many of the students from more traditional confessions insisted on having sheet music, when we gathered we found that at least half of the singers (including those from the global south and the African American student) could not read music and were more comfortable with call and response. Unlike traditional hymns with multiple verses, these songs lent themselves to those singing in a foreign language. Our closing worship featured Nzamuranza, an acappella song led by a pastor from Zimbabwe, accompanied by djmbe and shakers. Students ranging from Anglican Brits to Tongan Methodists sang energetically, and Ilarion, an Orthodox music leader from the Ukraine, requested copies of the music to take back to his country!?
Over nineteen weeks, Linda and other program participants spent about a third of their time learning on-location. They visited sites that demonstrated the type of community that they were exploring and experiencing together. Students spent one week in Rome; three days at the Taiz? Community in Burgundy, France; four days at a Swiss parish; attended five Sunday worship services in Catholic, Orthodox, Reformed, Lutheran traditions; and visited the Abbey at Bonmont,?a 12th-century Cistercian?abbey.
"The emphasis in our travels and in the classroom seemed to be exposure to different styles of worship and theology. We were blessed with many different guest lecturers presenting different perspectives on Biblical interpretation, styles of worship, and theology. In our?core classes, we generally broke into small groups after the lecture, and depending on the makeup of the group, discussion sometimes seemed more like arguing.?However, what I first heard as challenges, I began to see as honest attempts to understand one another?s faith community and its theology.
My new friend Alex from Greece called me ?Mrs Debate? on Facebook, and only this week has changed it to ?Mrs Dialogue? because of my continued posts on our group Facebook page encouraging less confrontational posturing. When I thanked him for the renaming, he responded "You deserve it! Keep up,?because I learn many pieces of good knowledge from you!? Likewise, my friend Alexandru from Romania and I have learned to have an appreciation for each other?s faith because of the similarities between our denominations? views on the Holy Spirit. While we may not agree on the ordination of women and lay persons, we made inroads to understanding the basis of such disagreements are based on the sanctity of tradition. As a new convert to the idea of ?slowing down? and being accessible, I am happy that my Orthodox friends and I are still in conversation. For students like Alexandru, who comes from a country where 85% of the population is the same faith, I am delighted that he is coming to the table because he wants to know more about my beliefs. The least I can do is listen, question, and try and learn more about his!"
Following her time studying abroad, Linda conducted online, phone and Skype interviews with fifteen fellow participants from fourteen different Christian denominational traditions. Linda reported her findings, as well as her own reflections in a final paper presented to Dr. Michael Kinnamon as a part of ?Advanced Ecumenical Studies? credit for the school?s Master of Divinity degree program. One of the most interesting questions that Linda posed to the students addressed the students? most significant challenge in the Bossey experience. The categories of ?worship? and ?culture? were the most highly rated challenges across the board. (See right for the bar graph of findings; click to enlarge.)
Linda did a great job of encapsulating some of her core learnings from the experience when we spoke with her this month. She shared:
"As a result of this experience, my new mantra is accessibility. As someone with health issues, I appreciated the students that would slow down and walk with me. Students who were not so fluent in English appreciated those who would slow down and help them understand. In multicultural settings, I believe accessibility is critical, and takes discipline to slow down and ask 'what would be helpful to you?' I also embraced Dr. Raschko?s advice that one 'must be open to conversion' if we as Christians truly respect Christians of other confessions. We must accept that there is something the other sees that we need to also see and know. The directives of Jesus that teach 'those who humble themselves will be exalted' (Luke 14.11) and 'that the last will be first' (Matthew 20.16) are contrary to the values of our present society, but crucial if we are to care enough to serve . . . and understand?our neighbor."
We asked Linda what she might say to someone considering applying for the experience next year?
She energetically responded with: ?Go! You will forge friendships across borders and confessions that will prove transformational.??
Learn more about the Bossey Scholarship, here.
Discover the Master of Divinity degree and its opportunities, here.