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Student spends semester at Ecumenical Institute at Bossey

Even though she grew up in a white community near St. Louis, Linda Gasparovic has been drawn to multicultural connections and inclusive community.

Linda Gasparovec

Linda Gasparovic, with husband Paul Binneboese at Annual Meeting, shared experiences at Bossey.

While her parents came from churches that had “the absolute truth”—Catholic and Southern Baptist—she attended a church where she experienced inclusion that paved her way not only into the United Church of Christ, but also into attending Seattle University’s ecumenical School of Theology and Ministry (STM).

In addition, from September 2013 to February 2014, she participated through the STM in the graduate studies program of the World Council of Churches’ Ecumenical Institute at Bossey, near Geneva, Switzerland.

She was drawn to study at Seattle for a master’s in transformational spirituality because of the STM’s ecumenical vision and multicultural environment.  At Bossey, she was immersed in intercultural, international and interchurch perspectives.

Linda has been aware of the beauty of “difference” and sensitive to issues of accessibility from having a partially sighted sister.

After earning a degree in art in 1976 from Southern Illinois University, she began a career in advertising, art and as creative director for several companies.  While working at the all-black Kentucky State University, Linda began attending a Methodist Church.

“I began talking with the church about how to make its message more attractive,” she said, wanting to apply her advertising skills to her church.

Having visited Seattle in the early 1980s, she and her husband Paul Binnenoese, who married in 1987, moved there, where Paul would have opportunities as a software engineer.

Linda and Paul began attending Bethany UCC because of the bouncer ads in 2000.  They now attend Liberation UCC.

She began thinking of going to seminary in the early 1990s and looked at the STM.  She began studies in 2009.

“I related with Asian and African American students, more than white middle class,” said Linda, who is from an Eastern European working class family.  “I learned that people of color have power.”

Through the STM, she did an internship with the multicultural Rainier Beach United Methodist Church.

“I feel it’s important for diverse groups to understand each other,” she said.

At Bossey, Linda engaged in an ecumenical, multicultural environment with more than 30 people from around the world, people who were asking questions.

In in-depth conversations with other students, she found she had beliefs and concerns in common with other people, particularly from areas where they have less voice and are not included.

“People in dominant cultures do not realize that people need to be invited,” she said.  “For Europeans, European approaches seem to be part of the natural order.

“I learned there are different ways to see things.  In conversations, we explored why we were different,” she said.

At Bossey, she had further opportunities for cross-cultural, cross-confessional and cross-national connections.

A few of the things she and others learned:

• A Syrian Orthodox sister said outsiders coming to do mission there had often caused problems.  She also said the government had been helpful to Christians. 

• A Ukrainian man told her about U.S. and Russian influence there.

• Two Orthodox Russians were surprised that students pay tuition to attend U.S. colleges, because they have free education through college.

• Romanian Orthodox did not know Ethiopian Orthodox used drums.

“People from all over the world were asking questions and learning from each other,” she said.  “I found I had things in common with Orthodox spirituality.

Bossey was also an opportunity for education about what different Christian confessions believe and do in their different contexts.

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Copyright Pacific Northwest Conference United Church News © Summer 2014


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