4th Assembly - Volos 2003: Water - Source of Life

Water - Source of Life

6-11 May 2003, Volos, Greece

Five years have passed since the foundation of the European Christian Environmental Network (ECEN). From May 6-11, 2003 the Fourth Assembly of the Network was held in Volos, Greece.

ECEN came into existence in response to a recommendation from the Second European Ecumenical Assembly in Graz (1997). Its purpose is to affiliate persons in charge of environmental work in the churches and facilitate exchange on church initiatives in environmental protection and care. The inaugural meeting in Vilemov (Czech Republic, 1998) was followed by three assemblies – Loccum (1999), Minsk (2001) and most recently Volos. The network established working groups to deal with specific themes such as creation time, climate change, motorised mobility, environmental management, etc. The foundation of the network met with a positive echo.

ECEN assemblies fulfil a triple function. They are primarily a platform for the members to exchange experiences and insights. Secondly, they give the working groups an opportunity to test their work and to make plans for the future and, thirdly, they provide an occasion to address common themes. In Loccum particular attention was given to climate change and motorised mobility, in Minsk to energy, and in Volos to sustainable development and to water.

Sustainable Development – Sustainable Communities

In August and September 2002 the UN World Summit on Sustainable Development took place in Johannesburg. The ECEN assembly in Volos held extensive discussions on the outcome of this conference. Jan Pronk, the special envoy of the Secretary General of the UN to the Summit, was a key-note speaker in Volos and presented us with his assessment. Though the Summit was able to make progress in certain areas, the overall results give rise to great concern. The Volos Assembly made the following judgement: “The Summit in Johannesburg confirmed established principles for sustainable development in the light of a new context. Goals were formulated, but there were close to no decisions made on implementation mechanisms.” Also, there was a tendency to erode the meaning of certain agreed principles. The precautionary principle was watered down to precautionary approach. The idea of global commons was reduced to that of global interests.” There is therefore an urgent need for the churches to remind politicians and decision-makers of these tendencies and to confront them with illustrations of the day to day threats faced by the victims of unsustainable development.

The term ”˜sustainable development’ is one which is widely used today. As such, there is a growing danger that its true meaning and challenge can be lost. Very often ”˜development’ is put forward as the primary goal and the adjective ”˜sustainable’ treated as a mere corrective. Also, development is often equated solely with economic development. The ECEN Assembly in Volos underlined that the churches are primarily concerned with ”˜sustainable communities’. Their vision is for the quality of life for the present and future generations. They therefore have the task to protect the notion of ”˜sustainable development’ from facile interpretations. In this perspective, the Assembly recommended that the churches in Europe set up, or rather participate in setting up, in each country a social forum through which the various actors in society, government, business, trade-unions, NGO’s and churches can work together for the implementation of the goal of sustainable development. Further, the Assembly stressed the importance of and the need for a ”˜life style of sufficiency’ – placing the emphasis on meaning of life and communion rather than growth and constantly increasing consumption.


Water, the second theme of the Volos Assembly, has been an issue on the agenda of ECEN for some time. In view of the fact that water has been declared as the central theme for the year 2003 by the United Nations, it was natural for us to address the churches’ responsibility towards it.

The Assembly recognised the urgency of the issue. Water scarcity is increasing in many countries, and though the Johannesburg Summit declared that the number of people without access to water and sanitation should be reduced by half by 2015, no means of implementation was agreed and so it is far from certain that this target will be reached. The churches have a specific role to play.

  1. For them, water is not a mere commodity. It is God’s gift, essential for life, and should therefore be available in the highest possible degree to all people.
  2. Churches have, therefore, the obligation to participate in the public debate on water issues. In recent years, responsibility for water management and distribution has increasingly moved from the public to the private sector. While this development is not necessarily negative in every case, it is important for the churches to make sure that certain principles are observed both by the public and the private sector. To those principles belong: the precautionary principle, transparency of management, the participation of people directly concerned in decision-making processes, the need for public control, the need to provide water for the less fortunate parts of the population who tend to be neglected, the need to provide sufficient protection against pollution.
  3. The requirement for an overall framework, possibly a UN convention enshrining these principles, was underlined.
  4. The churches have rich liturgical and spiritual traditions that refer to water which can help raise the awareness of the churches and strengthen their witness in society.

An ECEN working group will explore this theme further in the coming months. The papers presented at the Assembly and a summary of the discussion will be made available in a dossier. {global_content name="susdev"}

Creation Time

The Second European Ecumenical Assembly in Graz (1997) recommended to the churches the adoption of a special creation day. From the very beginning ECEN devoted particular attention to this recommendation. Discussions led to the suggestion that the churches should introduce into their calendars a Creation Time stretching from September 1 to the second Sunday of October, a recommendation favourably received by many parishes and churches. September 1, and increasingly the Creation Time in September and October, are more and more observed. A special ECEN working group seeks to promote this practice. For two years ECEN has provided liturgical material – with prayers and texts from different church traditions. In addition, to assist churches in the celebration of Creation Time, a dossier is prepared on relevant environmental themes. The working group continues to be available for advice and is grateful for any information about initiatives taken in various parts of Europe. {global_content name="creationtime"}

Climate Change

From the beginning the issue received much attention in the network. Many members are active in this field. In 2001, the ECEN working group on climate change published a dossier on the implications of the challenge for Europe, and in November 2001 it co-sponsored a consultation on ”˜Solidarity with Victims of Climate Change’ which led to a strong statement calling for the acceleration of the climate change negotiations signed by a large number of relief and development agencies. The statement points to the fact that with the increase of weather anomalies, relief and development agencies will have to face more and more emergencies. Members of the climate change working group have been present at the Conference of Parties (COP) to the Climate Change Convention and intend to participate also in the forthcoming Conference of Parties (COP 9) in Milan, Italy. {global_content name="climatechange"}


Motorised Mobility

This was the major theme at the second ECEN Assembly in Loccum (1999). Under the auspices of the World Council of Churches and the Evangelical Academy Bad Boll a study project on ”˜Sustainable Mobility Worldwide’ was launched. It resulted in a report recently published under the title ”˜Mobile – but not driven’. The ECEN Working Group on Mobility actively participated in this project and provided input from Europe. The ECEN Assembly of Loccum formulated a set of ten theses as a contribution to this study project. On various occasions the ECEN working group on Motorised Mobility issued recommendations on behalf of ECEN, e.g. supporting initiatives for car free Sundays and, more particularly, September 22 as a European car free day (“In town – without my car” organised with increasing resonance all over Europe by the Climate Alliance www.klimabuendnis.de ). {global_content name="mobility"}

Environmental Management

Churches should not only issue appeals to governments and society to promote sustainable development but to be credible they also need to apply the principles of sustainability to their own lives. How do congregations run their buildings? How do they cultivate church land? Above all how do individual members live an ecologically responsible life? Several churches have given detailed attention to such questions. Questionnaires and guidelines have been worked out. Already at the inaugural assembly in 1998 an ECEN working group on environmental management was formed. It offers to the churches a platform to exchange information and compare approaches. It takes into account the Environmental Management Audit Scheme (EMAS), developed by the European Union. The EMAS would be a good basis for a systematic management approach in all churches. In this way, churches can reduce climate change, save money and gain credibility. Therefore we encourage the churches to start with ecomanagement. The Environmental Management Coalition is willing to help starting this process. The working group is now producing a dossier on Environmental Management in churches (what is it? Why is it important and ways of doing it?) which will be available in the near future. {global_content name="ecomanagement"}

Environmental Education

All people involved in the environmental movement face the challenge of overcoming the resistance to environmental measures. How can the message effectively be passed? How do people interiorise intellectual insights about the degradation of the environment and learn to translate them into life styles? The churches have many opportunities to promote environmental education and the ECEN Working Group on Education seeks to offer opportunities of exchange and assistance. It has gathered good examples of successful environmental education – stories and case studies which may serve a wider purpose. The main emphasis is on contacts with religious educators. {global_content name="education"}

Theological Reflection

At all assemblies both worship life and theological reflection have been important dimensions. Many have been prompted by a renewed ecological reflection on God’s creation and the implications of our faith in God, the Creator, for Christian life. A wealth of literature is available. Approaches differ. The various church traditions start from different presuppositions and develop different perspectives. New theological movements have made their entry into the debate. There is an urgent need for exchange and clarification. Theological encounters have been arranged at assemblies but the Enabling Team recognises the need for a more consistent approach to the theological debate and hopes to organise a representative theological seminar in the future. {global_content name="theology"}

Structure of the network

The Assembly in Volos was an important moment in the life of the network. An evaluation of the past five years of its existence was made in order to plan for the future. Since its beginning, the ECEN has been used as a platform for the exchange of information, sharing good practices, and mutual encouragement in the environmental work of the churches across Europe. Delegates at the Assembly realised the extent of the enthusiasm that existed among the participants; this fostered the appropriate encouragement for them to continue and intensify these activities.

Assembly Articles