10th Assembly –
Hungary, September 2014
“There is no other world that has been redeemed through Jesus Christ. It was in this world that He was born in a stable. He walked this earth. He breathed in the same dust as the disciples. He ate and drank what everyone else did. He was crucified on a splintered piece of wood, and the stone which was rolled away had a moment of inertia. There is no other world that we could live in… We should guard the deposit entrusted to us with the courage of Christ, under earthly conditions and with heavenly hopes.” — Pastor Tamás Kodácsy
With beautiful lake Balaton in the background, over 100 participants joined the 10th Assembly of the European Christian Environment Network at Balatonszárszó in Hungary from 27th – 30th September 2014. We were from Anglican, Catholic, Orthodox and Protestant traditions from 24 different countries meeting on the theme of ‘Climate Change – the Churches Response’.
The majority of the delegates were activists from their own churches already engaged in tackling global warming through campaigns, projects, liturgies and green policies.
At the opening ecumenical service, which took place in the Lutheran church at the neighbouring village of Balatonboglár, we were invited to make pledges to change our own lifestyles by writing on paper leaves, which were then pinned symbolically on the outline of bare tree branches on the wall. We were also presented with a key to take home to remind us of our human guardianship of the Earth and her resources.
Participants shared worship, meals and practical activities together, as well as engaging in focussed discussion. The youth representatives invited us to convert used (but washed!) T shirts into shopping bags and shun plastic carriers. They also demonstrated the use of more natural substances such as baking powder and vinegar in everyday household cleaning.
Former Bishop of Liverpool, James Jones, opened the Assembly with a call for all Christians to act ethically and locally from a global perspective. The gospel invites us to be actively involved in the ‘earthing of heaven’ – the living out of values of a living, loving God in the midst of Creation. As the second Adam, Jesus points to a profound interaction with all the elements of life and the completion of the good work begun in Eden.
He later reminded us that all energy is from God and is offered as a good divine gift. The Greek word ‘logos’ can mean power or energy, and so we can speak of energy being sacred, and therefore to be handled with respect and care.
Small Working Groups on Biodiversity, Eco-Management, Theology, Transition Communities and Climate Change gave those present an opportunity to explore these particular themes further, with each developing action plans for follow-up work.
In networking over meals, coffee and music I got to hear of the ‘Lent for the Earth’ project (France), of seed-saving congregations (Austria), of churches involved in Transition Towns (Italy), of carbon-free church centres (Hungary) and Water saving schemes (Greece).
We were told of 6 twinning links across denominations between 10 countries and 9 currencies which have led to a number of environmental projects. These include eco-management work between Germany and Romania, Eco-Congregations in Scotland and Hungary, and energy conservation work in Norway and Belarus.
Hungarian Christians spoke of native tree-planting schemes, whilst Germans are making church buildings more energy efficient. UK churches are divesting from fossil fuels and Czechs developing solar, wind and hydro renewable energies.
Our attention was drawn to Carbon Fasting – reducing or refraining from eating on the first day of each month, with many ‘fasters’ now joining in from twenty countries, and continuing at least to the COP (Conference of the Parties) summit in France in December 2015. Members of churches and faith communities who prayed and protested in New York on 23rd September are encouraged to do the same next year at Paris, and Norwegian churches are planning pilgrimages to the French capital from Trondheim and elsewhere across Europe.
However, a key underlying message from the Assembly was that current church initiatives, vital as they are, may not be enough. Scientists and theologians at the conference pointed out that the failure of governments to agree to actively cap greenhouse gas emission levels means an even greater challenge.
It is now unequivocal that the world is warming and this is with 96% certainty due to human activity. The impacts on food security, migration, habitat loss and species extinction are already very real in the most vulnerable communities and countries, and these are immense challenges to people of faith who believe in issues of justice, integrity and peace for the whole of life on God’s earth.
As delegate Henrik Grape (Church of Sweden) said, “to be church is to be contextual”. And today’s context is one of our world being deeply affected by climate change – whether on the coasts of Europe, in the glaciers of the Alps, the desertifying communities around the Mediterranean, or further afield in low lying Bangladesh, the rainforests of South America or the ice sheets of the Poles. Sea levels are rising by an average of 3mm a year and the oceans are being rapidly acidified.
One speaker quoted President Barak Obama’s words: “We are the first generation to experience the impacts of climate change, and the last generation to do anything about it”. All of this calls points to the need for collective action, not just the efforts of individuals.
It is essential to tackle the causes (the excess extraction and burning of fossil fuels) as well as the consequences (increasing greenhouse gas emissions), prompting questions about the relationships between governments, who are reluctant to constrain the liberties of large energy corporations, and the fuel industries themselves – with their insatiable desire to maximise huge profits from oil, coal and gas consumption.
Some contributors called for more radical action with the need to leave unexploited fossil fuels in the ground and for long-term strategies to reverse the damage being done by carbon and other emissions.
In this respect maybe the transformation of Germany to renewable sources of power through the ‘Energiewende’ programmes is an example of hope for future generations. If our churches and civil society agencies can press for mass energy savings, energy efficiencies and greener sources of heat and light, we may still make a difference – especially if linked to the active re-investment of church funds into renewable energies such as solar, wind, hydro and biomass.
The Assembly at the Hungarian Reformed Church Centre Soli Deo Gloria produced a number of tangible outcomes including a short letter to Churches of Europe, a statement to the European Union and a proposal to meet again at the invitation of the Finnish churches in 2016.
For further details see: www.ecen.org
Martyn Goss, October 2014
The European Christian Environmental Network (ECEN) is a church network promoting co-operation in caring for creation. ECEN is an instrument of the Conference of European Churches, in cooperation with the European Catholic Bishops’ Conference, for addressing the relationship to nature and the environment from the perspective of Christian theology and Christian way of life.