Basel Diary

Wednesday May 4

Following prayers, welcome and introductions the Fifth ECEN Assembly was constituted. The Assembly was greeted by its hosts, Madeline Strub of the Basel Missionshaus, and Georg Vischer of the local committee, which had organised the venue and the parallel programme of events.

After the evening meal, Michael Northcott from Scotland gave a theological basis for our work, building on the paper 'Listen to Creation Groaning'. Through the crucifixion and resurrection of Christ we know creation differently: although it is 'groaning', Christ's risen body is a foretaste of its renewal and a promise that it will not be abandoned by God. The 'natural indeterminacy' of ecological systems such as the climate or the evolution of species, in which small events can result in huge changes, provides a hopeful analogy for us. Although global agreements such as Kyoto are often disappointing in their results, committed individuals may do a disproportionate amount of good as 'ecological saints'.

Marcus Vogt, Clearingstelle Umwelt, Benediktbeuren, presented a report of the environmental consultations of the European Catholic Bishops' Conferences (CCEE) over the past few years. The consultations covered environmental information and theology; the Christian understanding of human life and work; and discussion of appropriate areas of environmental work for the church, such as education. Prominent themes included recurring concerns about consumerism, the need to recover the dignity of work, and the need for education in which knowledge is not just in our head but in our heart and hands. The consultations produced a recommendation that the church model sustainable lifestyles, and incorporate days of creation into the liturgical year.

Peter Pavlovic, in conversation

Peter Pavlovic, Secretary of ECEN, informed the Assembly of the work that has been done since the fourth Assembly in Volos. The ECEN working groups have formed the core of activity, various publications have been completed, and environmental work is increasing amongst local churches (These links are suggested starting points for finding out more information about the ongoing work of ECEN).

Thursday May 5

Opening worship in the Titus Church. Roman Catholic theologian Eva Südbeck-Barr preached the sermon. A candle which was first lit at the first European Ecumenical Assembly in Basel, convened by CEC and CCEE in 1989, was re-lit, symbolising the link between the two events. The Titus Church has a solar roof, providing renewable energy for the church and city of Basel. Profits from the sale of surplus electricity have provided a similar solar installation for a hospital in Africa, for the refrigeration of medicines. Following the service, delegates enjoyed a reception and lunch provided by the minister and members of the Titus Church.

Margarete Auken

In the afternoon, three keynote speakers addressed the Assembly. Margarete Auken, Member of the European Parliament for Denmark, spoke of her frustration at the reluctance of individuals and governments to face up to the environmental crisis. Although there is a low expectation of what churches might contribute to the struggle for sustainability, and churches have sometimes done little to challenge that, there is a huge amount Christians could contribute.

Jànos Zelinsky, Regional Environment Centre, Szentendre, Hungary, described the situation in Eastern Europe. Under communism, people lived in a polluted and concrete local environment, and massive monocultures of industry and agriculture caused great environmental degradation; but the prevalence of poverty and backwardness meant that many ecosystems were left undisturbed, and there was good public transport with few cars. In the changes since 1989, the churches have contributed much that is positive, but mostly thanks to the quiet personal work of unacknowledged lay people. Eastern problems have been exchanged for western ones: greed, lust and violence have accompanied freedom and creativity. The role of the churches is the same as it has always been: a prophet, teacher, and example even if it seems to be a voice crying in the wilderness.

Rogate Ruben Mshana

Rogate Ruben Mshana from Tanzania, staff member of the World Council of Churches, discussed the relationship of Europe to the south. Europe, having 'discovered' Africa, brought civilization' consisting in colonialisation, commerce and Christianity. 'Civilization' was re-named 'development', and now the latest idea Europe is bringing to Africa is 'sustainability'. But this is what Africans had before Europeans arrived: it was called 'life'! The church in Europe and Africa must repent and move on into a new relationship, acknowledging Europe's ecological debt and leading the way in trade justice. Europeans could halve the amount of wealth they have and still be comfortable, but because it has grown so gradually, the churches have become acclimatised and are not appalled at European luxury.

In the evening, the Assembly met in seven working groups: Creation Time, climate change, motorised mobility and air travel, eco-management, education, creation theology. More information on the work of these groups at the Assembly will be available soon.

Friday May 6

In the morning the Assembly met in working groups.

After lunch, Keith Clements, General Secretary of Conference of European Churches (CEC), and Aldo Giordano, General Secretary of the Council of European Bishops' Conferences (CCEE), addressed the Assembly. They presented the plans for the Third European Ecumenical Assembly to be held in Sibiu, Romania, in 2007. ECEN agreed to support the Assembly process, and to be part of the forum on environmental issues in Sibiu. Further meetings of the working groups followed.

In the evening, there was a podium discussion on ecological tax reform in the Aula of Basel University. This was one of several public events which brought together delegates at the Assembly with people from the city of Basel. Kai Schlegelmilch described the impacts of phased increases in the German energy tax, with the resulting revenues used to fund renewable energy projects. Although the impact of the tax has been diluted by rising oil prices and falling electricity prices, it has resulted in a 5 per cent increase in public transport use, more car sharing, and a big increase in domestic solar panels. Barbara Schneider, member of the Basel Cantonal Government, described a similar policy in Basel, combined with new building regulations to improve energy efficiency, and a very successful 'green roof' initiative. Costa Carras from Greece explained how a targeted charge for electricity used for air conditioning during the month of July had helped to encourage ways to reduce this annual peak. His paper is available for download: (Word, 64KB). ECEN delegates continued the discussion with the speakers at the Missionshaus.

Saturday May 7

The Assembly spent the day finalising and presenting the reports of the working groups, and the main report. A new {cms_selflink page="people" text="Enabling Team" class="who"} were elected, and future work discussed. Heinrick Grape of Sweden invited ECEN to host the {cms_selflink page="flamslatt06" text="next Assembly in Flämslätt" class="what"} in autumn 2006.

In the evening there was a public event in the Elizabethen-Kirche, 'Does Europe live far beyond its means'. Ernst Ulrich von Weizsäcker, Mathias Wackernagel, and Maya Graf debated ways in which the European 'ecological footprint' might be reduced. This was also the venue for a poster exhibition on the churches’ contribution to a sustainable Europe, which was open to the people of Basel throughout the week.

During the night from Saturday to Sunday a vigil was held in the Clarakirche.

Sunday May 8

Delegates joined the congregation of Basel Münster for morning worship. Delegates of the Assembly participated in the service, and Lukas Vischer preached the sermon, encouraging Christians to fight for the integrity of creation and for justice on earth. The Choer de l'église reacute;formeacute;e philipienne de Genegrave;ve, the Cathedral choir, and the organist Felix Pachlatcko led the worship with music and dance. After the service, ECEN delegates shared food and conversation with local Christians in the square beside the Münster.

In the final plenary session, the fifth ECEN Assembly discussed and agreed upon its final report, 'The churches' contribution to sustainable development' (Word, 144KB). It also agreed a 'Message to every church and congregation in Europe' (Word, 53KB) for delegates to use in encouraging churches to take action for creation; and a Message on Climate Change to the G8 Summit (Word, 25KB) taking place in Gleneagles, Scotland, in June.