NEST November 2016 Newsletter
by Dr. George Sabra, President
Near East School of Theology–Beirut, Lebanon
Many seminaries and faculties of theology in the western world have been introducing changes in their curricula and revising their traditional conceptions of theological education. Gaining experience of other contexts and being exposed to global and ecumenical ways of theological learning has become highly recommended, if not required, in some places.
In most cases this involves encouraging students to spend some time away from their immediate contexts and so to travel to other countries.
NEST has been engaged in this global and ecumenical education endeavor for many years now, but our Middle Eastern students do not have to go anywhere to have that experience: the world and other contexts and cultures come to them. Increasingly NEST is becoming a multicultural, multi-linguistic and ecumenical locus of theological learning. There are this year 10 nationalities represented on our student body, speaking 7 different languages, hailing from 5 different continents. There are students from Protestant, Catholic, and Orthodox backgrounds and traditions; there are women and men almost equally divided; lay and ordained, old and young, and over 65% of all students reside together on the same premises. Where else in the Middle East, or the world perhaps, would one find a more global, ecumenical and inclusive community? Lebanese and German, Syrian and Swedish, Jordanian and Danish, Armenian and British, American and Tongan (New Zealand), live, study, pray, discuss, argue, learn, laugh, and play together.
Not only is life at NEST an ecumenical and multicultural experience; it is also an opportunity to live and experience what it means to be the Body of Christ that is composed of a variety of members. Theological education at NEST affords one the possibility of learning to understand and appreciate the ways other members of the same Body live and experience and practice their faith, and so to be enriched by the lives and experiences and thought of others. But experiencing the variety and plurality of the members of the Body of Christ in the Middle East means much more. It means enacting solidarity with one another.
This part of the world is going through great trials and tribulations for all its inhabitants, but especially for the Christians. To be in Lebanon and in the Middle East at this point in history is also to learn and to live what it means to affirm that we all are members of the one Body of Christ. If one member suffers, we all suffer together; if one member is honored all rejoice together. (I Cor. 12:26).
Christmas is the great celebration of the Head identifying and co-suffering with the Members in order to give hope and assurance of liberation to our world.