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Monday, February 6, 2023

World Council of Churches: Climate, ecology, and theology: all connected!

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By Martin Hoegger

In 1998, the Orthodox Church, followed by several churches, set aside 1. September as a day dedicated to creation.

With the symbol of water, without which there would be neither physical nor spiritual life (eg. baptism) on earth, the morning prayer introduced the assembly to this theme in a lively and prayerful way. At the heart of the liturgical action were containers of water from every continent, a “gathering of the waters” reflecting the act of creation in the first chapter of Genesis (v. 9)

As the waters intermingled, the assembly affirmed both our dependence on creation and our union with the risen Christ through baptism. Through him, in whom all fullness dwells, God has reconciled everything on earth and in heaven, as the Bible reading for the day from Colossians 1:9 states

“The Green Patriarch

In his address, the “green patriarch” of Constantinople Bartholomew – “green” because of his commitment to the environment – stresses that the resurrection of Christ leads us to change our view of the world: “The heart of the universe is Christ, not ourselves. When we are transformed by the light of his resurrection, we become able to discover the purpose for which God created each person and thing”.

He calls for a radical change, refusing to reduce our spiritual life to our personal interests and questioning our consumption habits in relation to the resources of creation.

Christian unity calls for common ecological action.

In line with Bartholomew, Metropolitan Emmanuel of Chalcedon (also of the Patriarchate of Constantinople) is convinced that the search for Christian unity must also lead to a conversion with regard to creation. We are stewards not only of the Church but also of Creation.

Last year, together with Pope Francis and Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby, Bartholomew signed a joint statement calling on the churches to reconcile and commit together to be good stewards of creation. “If we do not become more sober now, we will pay terrible consequences. The current situation calls for common action. Ecology is a consequence of our faith in Christ,” says Bishop Emanuel.

In his report, the Orthodox theologian Ioan Sauca, acting General Secretary of the WCC, also shared his conviction that climate and ecological issues are a theological issue. Through his incarnation, Christ has indeed taken on everything. God’s purpose in Christ also includes reconciliation and the healing of creation. “I will not mince my words: our planet will be uninhabitable in 50 years if we do not change our behaviour.

The voice of youth

The assembly gave the floor to young people from north to south, east to west. Julia Rensberg, a delegate from the Church of Sweden, comes from the Sami people in northern Scandinavia. The indigenous people of the Arctic see global warming much more than elsewhere. Climate justice and respect for indigenous peoples are intimately linked. For her, reconciliation starts with telling the truth. The truth must be told about the colonization of indigenous peoples. Christ loves all creation and wants to heal it through our practice of truth.

Bjorn Warde, a delegate from the Presbyterian Church in Trinidad and Tobago, loves the Caribbean, a beautiful place that he wants to care for, but which is undergoing severe environmental degradation. It’s the result of our thoughtless actions. “We know we have not been good stewards of creation. Cooperation between churches is essential and the voice of young people is not heard enough”.

“It is very important for me to raise awareness about climate change,” said Subin Tamang, a 25-year-old Nepalese. “I see the effects in my country where farmers cannot harvest wheat and rice because of drought.

Along with 25 other young people under 30, he participated in the “Climate Group” during the Youth Assembly preceding the General Assembly. “What struck me most was hearing from people in Fiji, the Philippines and the Pacific region. The high ocean levels have already affected them, and this is an anticipation to what will happen to us. I fear that the Caribbean islands will disappear,” said Tia Phillip, adding: “In 50 years’ time, that’s a lifetime for me and my nieces and nephews”.

In Nepal, Tamang leads a Baptist church youth group on climate change. He is committed to ensuring that churches have a role to play in helping communities adapt to climate change.

Carbon conversations

At the large stand of the Protestant Church of Switzerland, a “Brunnen” (the name of the workshops during the assembly) presents the “Carbon Conversations”, an awareness-raising project to reduce the carbon footprint, supported by the Swiss Protestant Aid Agency and the Catholic Lenten Fund. https://voir-et-agir.ch/pour-les-paroisses/conversations-carbone/ The method originates from England and has become popular in churches as well as in secular organizations

It is based on the observation that knowledge of the facts is not enough to change one’s habits in food, consumption, or mobility. You must meet to talk about it. Groups of 8 to 10 people meet four times for two hours with two facilitators.

This method allows for discussion without conflict or guilt. In an analysis, the University of Bern found that people who participated significantly reduced their footprint

Monasteries as models of integral ecology.

An assembly allows you to meet countless people, known or unknown, near or far. I had the joy of meeting a long-time friend, Sister Anne-Emmanuelle, prioress of the Grandchamp community. She shared with me what is happening there in terms of ecology. Inspired by the work of the Catholic theologian Elena Lasida, she and her sisters believe that monasteries, in their way of life, can be a model of integral ecology, a source of inspiration for all.    

For her, the link between ecology and monastic life is not primarily at the level of “organic” practices; it is at the level of the four relationships: to God, to oneself, to others, to nature.

S. Emmanuelle also refers to the teaching of Pope Francis in “Laudato si” which she summarises as follows: everything is linked, everything is a gift, everything is fragile. Monastic life, in its deepest intention, is a factor of unification of the person and of people among themselves, whereas in today’s world everything is fragmented. In this sense, a monastery is a paradigmatic place of integral ecology, a place where it can be fully incarnated. Monasteries are true ecosystems.

A tree, a walk and a prayer

At the end of the plenary on God’s love in creation, a cedar tree is presented by Agnes Abuom, President of the WCC, to Frank Mentrup, the Mayor of Karlsruhe. It will be planted in the “Garden of Religions”, which was created a few years ago to mark the city’s 300th anniversary. Another cedar as old as the city is already there. This tree has this message: “You can’t live without me”!

After this event, the youth climate group has organized a symbolic march along the exhibition tent area, with a call for solidarity and action on our lifestyle: “Our creation is not for sale. It is time to talk less and act more,” concluded the Indian speaker.

At the end of this rich day, the participants in the Orthodox Vespers for Creation Day said this prayer, with which I conclude this second article:

“Protect the environment, you who love us, for it is thanks to it that we live, that we are animated and that we exist, we who inhabit the earth according to your will, that we may be preserved from destruction and annihilation!

Surround the whole of creation, Christ the Saviour, with the power of your love for humankind and save the earth we inhabit from imminent destruction, for in you we, your servants, have placed our hope!”

Author: Martin Hoegger

Picture: The session on creation during the WCC Assembly / credit to Albin Hillert, WCC.

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