The European Christian Environmental Network (ECEN) celebrated 20 years of churches caring for Creation at its assembly in Katowice from 6 to 10 October.
The setting in southern Poland was a fitting locale for an event focussed on the intersection of economic and ecological justice. Katowice is the heart of the coal and steel industries in Poland, but in a few short weeks will host the United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP24). In opening the assembly, ECEN Secretary Peter Pavlovic remarked, “There are increasing signs of hope. These include developing awareness among people around the globe, increasing public pressure on politicians, growing production of energy from renewable sources and changing attitude to climate change in powerful countries.”
The Polish Council of Churches helped participants immerse themselves in Polish life with presentations on the Polish situation, invitation to Sunday worship, and hospitality throughout the five-day event.
More than 85 participants from 22 countries enjoyed exchanges about church action in response to ecological crisis. Those gathered learned about local and national projects, pilgrimages leading to COP24, and shaped a vision for the coming years of ECEN. Church representatives expressed gratitude for the work of the network, and underscored its importance for Christian life in Europe. “As we, the Conference of European Churches, looks ahead and plan the next five years, it is the ecological events around us that will set our program,” said Fr Heikki Huttunen, CEC General Secretary.
Contributions from scientists and policy makers stressed the magnitude of the global crisis affecting all people, all creatures, and all ecosystems. Jukka Uosukainen, Director of the UN Environment Climate Technology Centre and Network, noted that the challenge is greater than ever before in history. “Change is going to be costly and developed countries need to give a lot. Moral responsibility cannot be accomplished without organisations of faith.” Others echoed the profound inequalities present in both combatting climate change and suffering from it.
Paleontologist Mikael Fortelius of the University of Helsinki noted that people like him consume energy resources at the same rate as indricotheres—an ancient animal three times the size of an elephant.
Theological contributions offered alternative perspectives and encouraged hope even in the face of difficult realities. Bishop Nicholas Holtan, Church of England, took a cue from Patriarch Bartholomew and noted that “we must work in a collaborative and complementary way.” “Living justly is a joyful response to living with the gift of creation,” he continued, “not a burden.”
Rev. Henrik Grape of the World Council of Churches and member of the ECEN enabling team encouraged “hope against hope.” He reminded participants of the central role of faith communities in a world where some 80 percent of people identify with a religious tradition. “Faith is the platform of the ethics that supports this work. We must nourish a hope and carry on and do this work.” Concluding with a quote from Nelson Mandela, Grape remarked that “everything is impossible until it’s possible.”
At the close of the assembly, those gathered issued a statement encouraging further action from individuals, churches, and political actors for the sake of avoiding dangerous climate change and achieving the Sustainable Development goals.
The aim of the European Christian Environmental Network is to share information, experiences in environmental work among widely varied Christian traditions and to encourage a united witness in caring for God’s creation. ECEN works closely with the Conference of European Churches in addressing the need for environmental engagement and responding to climate change. For more information, please visit ECEN.org.