A haven of peace

Our history

For 65 years in Geneva, the Centre has been dedicated to serving the international community, first as a meeting place for students from all over the world, and gradually as a service provider offering affordable conference facilities, accommodation and catering.

But that is not the whole story. This timeline shows the Centre's commitment to the heart of international Geneva as a platform for dialogue and exchange between the many nationalities and cultures drawn to the city for diplomacy, research, education, self-fulfilment and well-being. Initiatives from many different communities have converged to the Centre since its inception, such as the Franco-Swiss branch of the anti-apartheid movement and the American Presbyterian Church's foreign student exchange programme.

Today, the Centre continues to operate with the same conviction and enthusiasm, welcoming visitors from nearly 100 nationalities, bringing people together, encouraging a home-like atmosphere and providing much-needed facilities that are accessible to all.

Who was John Knox?

A 16th century Scottish minister and theologian.

He was a major figure in the founding of Presbyterianism as a separate movement from the Protestant Reformation, a schism in Western Christianity initiated by Martin Luther.

Presbyterianism was influenced by John Calvin who developed Reformed theology and John Knox, who studied with Calvin in Geneva.

John Knox led the Protestant Reformation in Scotland and was instrumental in developing a new confession of faith.

The Centre inherited its name from its historical affiliation with the Presbyterian Church in the USA.

Our timeline

1953
Constituent Assembly

On 23 April, the Constituent Assembly was held to inaugurate what was to become the John Knox House.
The project was initiated by the United Presbyterian Church USA at the instigation of Charles Tudor Leber, General Secretary of the Board of Foreign Mission.

The John Knox house takes root in Champel (Geneva)

1955
Opening

The John Knox House is inaugurated on 6 and 7 June. The first series of lectures begins, led by a pioneer of the ecumenical movement, the Dutch theologian Willem Visser't Hooft.

1958
First seminars

Paul Frelick, director of the centre from 1958 to 1966, organised the first annual seminars specifically for students from Africa, Asia and Latin America.

1961
Acquisition of land

The Centre acquires land in Grand-Saconnex to accommodate the growing number of visitors and requests for services.

1962
Construction

The new centre in Grand-Saconnex is under construction.

1963
The Grand Chalet

As the centre grew, the Grand Chalet was inherited from the Swiss National Exhibition of 1896. The Foyer is designed by local architect Dominique Gampert. The press describes the Foyer as a striking complex of stone, glass and brilliant angularity. The new John Knox House was inaugurated on the present site of the Centre in Grand-Saconnex on 21 June 1963.

1964
Visitors in all seasons

The Centre and its extensive tree-lined grounds attract visitors in all seasons.

1967
Charles Harper appointed Director

Charles Harper is appointed director (1967 - 1974). He launched a series of seminars for Latin American students. During his tenure, meeting rooms were built.

1970
Margaret Flory

A conference facility was built at the instigation of Margaret Flory, an ecumenist and strong advocate for students, and later director of the Commission on Mission and Ecumenical Relations of the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA).

 

 

 

1973
The John Knox Centre is at risk

The Presbyterian Church in the USA is restructured and PCA is dissolved. The John Knox Centre is in peril without its financial support, but the strength and determination of the community is based on a new model that forms the basis of the Centre's current activities: conference facilities, rooms and catering services available to all.

Thanks to the initiative of the Reverend Edmond Perret, Secretary General of the World Alliance of Reformed Churches, the Centre is run for one year without financial support or responsibility for the debt.

The initial clientele of students and religious groups quickly expanded to include Geneva's local and international communities, humanitarian and educational groups, non-governmental and intergovernmental organisations.

1974
New Director

Michel Cluzel is appointed director. (1974 - 1981)

1980
Groups and new hirings

The Centre is starting to host groups and rent out office space to other non-profit organisations at below market rates. Some rooms are renovated to hotel standards. The Centre's programme committee is reactivated.

1981
New Director

Jean-Jacques Bauswein is appointed director. (1981 - 1996) 

1993
The Centre celebrates its 40th anniversary

The Centre celebrates its 40th anniversary and officially dedicates the Flory Building to Margaret Flory

1998
New Director

Marc Appel is appointed Director. (1998 - 2018)

2003-2004
The Centre celebrates its 50th anniversary

The Centre celebrates its 50th anniversary. The renovation of the infrastructure is being undertaken with subsidies from the Grand-Saconnex Town Hall and with the support of generous donors.

2008
Death of Lukas Vischer

Lukas Vischer, iconic leader of the John Knox Centre community for 50 years, dies in Geneva.
He was a theologian, author and advocate for ecumenical dialogue in the Christian churches of the world.

2017
Modernisation of the Centre

Under the leadership of the Board, strategic planning is being undertaken to modernise the Centre to honour its past and secure its future in a competitive environment.

2018
New Director

Denis Muller is appointed Director.

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