Thursday, July 9, 2009

Faculté Libre de Théologie Évangélique (FLTE) at Vaux-sur-Seine

On Wednesday, May 6th, 2009, I was invited to photograph the day's activities at the Faculté Libre de Théologie Évangélique (FLTE) at Vaux-sur-Seine, 40 kms or about an hour's train ride from Paris. This is a Protestant seminary in which students from various evangelical denominations prepare to become pastors and church leaders. Some of the denominations represented include Reformed, Lutheran, Pentecostal, Mennonite, Methodist, etc. I felt that there were approximately 80 students, and about a dozen faculty and staff present that particular day. I was honoured when Dean Jacques Buchhold gave me a tour of the facilities, introduced me to their work, and granted me free access to all classes, the dorm, the weekly faculty meeting and other activities. After a while, people graciously learned to ignore my camera as I walked around, even when I took pictures during lectures.

These pictures give but a brief glimpse into the busy activities of these highly dedicated and very friendly theologians and seminarians. Over the decades, many congregations have been profoundly helped by FLTE's graduates.

Not long ago, FLTE celebrated 40 years of serving the evangelical communities in France.

The campus is compact, having two main buildings. One of these houses the seminary's library, office support staff and class rooms. The trees around this building moved gracefully in the wind on that overcast day.

Dean Jacques Buchhold is currently leading the seminary. His office bookshelves were crammed with books.
Dean Buchhold also chairs the faculty meetings. My understanding is that the seminary's entire faculty is involved democratically in all important curricular and institutional decisions. The meeting that particular day began with a Faculty/Staff Coffee right after lunch.

In a sense, the graduate seminars and lectures are the seminary's primary activities. Like graduate students everywhere, these seminarians took notes by hand and on their laptops.

You can just make out the River Seine, which is seen from the classroom windows.

Since the seminarians come from different Protestant traditions and cultures, discussions were fascinating, and at times lively.

I even took a quick picture (joyfully posed) of a seminarian giving a practice sermon in class.

The library at FLTE is developing important strengths in areas of interest to the faculty. It is also creating a shared electronic library catalogue with other scholarly libraries through Patchwork", or Bibliothèque Protestants et Associées, a cooperative network which enables a dozen scholarly libraries to share resources. One of these is the library at the Mennonite Centre de Paris, which specializes in Anabaptist writings, Anabaptist history (particularly in Europe) and worship.

A highlight in any student's day is taking a break from classes and going to the dining hall in the basement of the newer building, which also houses the dorm and chapel. Everybody eats together: students, staff and faculty. One person at each table brings the food for the entire table, then stands and serves it. The food was simple, economical and good. The first thing I noticed was the old napkin case which houses napkins for the week. This reminded me of the medieval monastic tradition (also used in some French homes) of using the same cloth napkin all week rather than consuming thousands of paper napkins. Lunch is also a time for conversation and friendly debating.

Although there was no chapel on the day of my visit, here are two photographs of the seminary's chapel, upstairs in one wing of the dormitory. A former seminarian provided the wonderful triptych at the back of the sanctuary.

One seminarian from the Alsace kindly let me take pictures in his room and I shot this, "as is". The room was a neat as his handwriting.

I also got to meet a few of the dedicated support staff at the seminary. No institution can operate without people working behind the scenes.

Several seminarians were willing to pause briefly while heading to lunch, and I took the photograph of another, unaware.

Between classes, the ping pong table was busy as seminarians played impromptu games until the bell announced the next class. After lunch, a number of seminarians played soccer (foot) for exercise, reminding me of St Benedict's advice: don't just study and worship, you should also get exercise daily. In the second picture (below) and several others in this blog, you can catch glimpses of the River Seine, the same river which flows through the heart of Paris and surrounds the Cathédral Notre Dame de Paris.