From Basel to Flämslätt

1. Introduction

ECEN is coming to its 6th Assembly. We gather only 1 year after the successful Assembly in Basel. The Assembly in Flämslätt is the second biggest Assembly in ECEN history. At this Assembly participate 95 registered delegates, friends and guests from 23 countries. This can be seen as a good sign, a sign of the vitality of the network. There was a good deal of optimism in the decision to hold the Assembly at this particular moment, in the short time after the Assembly in Basel. There were, however, good reasons for it. The Assembly in Flämslätt reflects increasing interest and increasing activity in a number of churches in Europe in the area of protection of the environment. Care for creation gets stronger ground in the churches, particularly in a number of grassroots practical activities, and reflects a similar trend in the society around us. Continuing and alarming developments in areas like climate change, energy concerns, lack of water resources and, in particular, the question “What is the response of each individual to these challenges?” is a picture which surrounds us. These developments need to be a wake-up call for the churches. Not only to follow others who may have been active on that path already for a longer time and to do ”˜a good thing’ that also others do. Care for creation is a challenge for the churches in a particular way: to re-discover nuances of the relationship between human beings, God and nature which are an integral part of Christian theology and ethics. Care for creation must not be something added to the manifold tasks of Christians and churches, it has to be an integral part of their life and mission. It seems that an increasing number of churches and Christians on the continent are aware of this call.

The reason to come together just 1 year after the previous Assembly and not to follow the usual pattern of 2 yearly periodicity is particularly reflected in another practical challenge we have to face. For September 2007, the CEC and CCEE called to Sibiu (Romania) the 3rd European Ecumenical Assembly. This will be a pan-European event having a special flavour particularly for those linked to the ECEN. ECEN has been created as a response to the conclusions adopted in 1997 at the 2nd EEA in Graz. This gives ECEN a special reason to look forward to the Assembly in Sibiu and present there the results of its work since its inception. We look forward very much to the close cooperation with our colleagues from CCEE for this Assembly and our joint preparation for it.

2. ECEN Assembly in Sweden

Coming to Sweden is for ECEN a joyful moment. There are several good reasons for that. For years the network has enjoyed strong support from the churches in the Nordic countries. This support reflects the strong involvement of the churches in this part of the continent in caring for the environment. Now all of us gathered at this Assembly have a chance to see more of the manifold activities in this area, to understand more the reasons behind this involvement and to see the results. We look forward very much to being educated in this way and to using this Assembly, among others, as a source of inspiration and example of good practices which I am sure we will , see in the coming days. Interest and strong involvement in caring for creation has been the reason why ECEN has been invited to hold its Assembly at this place. We are thankful to our colleagues and friends in Sweden for inviting us and supporting the ECEN in an extraordinary way.

We are thankful to the Church of Sweden for generous financial support for this Assembly. Thanks to Henrik Grape, the member of ECEN Enabling Team from the Church of Sweden, for his involvement and the special role he has played in the preparation of this Assembly. I believe I can ask him, on behalf of all of us, to pass on our thanks to all his colleagues in the Church office who have been in this or that way linked to this Assembly and, equally, to the leadership of the Church of Sweden for encouragement and support of ECEN work.

3. Theme of the Assembly

The title of this Assembly is ”˜Living in the new energy era.’ It is not new for the ECEN Assembly to deal with the theme of energy. The Assembly in 2001 in Minsk made the first step in this direction. We believe there is still a good reason to come back to the outcomes of that meeting. There has been however quite rapid development on the scene since then. The strong dependency of Europe on external resources, the question of renewable energy resources, the question of effective use of energy strongly linked with the life style of the majority of people in Europe are indeed those which deserve careful attention. It is also increasingly clear that these questions are to be addressed not only to the political decision-makers, but also equally to the wider society to which the churches and religions also belong . Christian ethics should be a guide to the response of a special kind to these challenges. We need to be aware that the problem of energy and the question of quality of our environment cannot be solved purely by increasing efficiency of technology. This is first of all a question of human attitude, human mind. This is a question of our relationship to nature and the way in which we can and should satisfy our needs. Theology needs to be a guide in this thinking. We are grateful to all speakers at this Assembly for their contribution to our thinking in this particular area.

4. Post-Basel development

The Assembly in Basel was a particular stimulus for further work of ECEN. The new leadership structure of the network was agreed. The Enabling Team now counts 5 elected persons and 2 ex-officio members plus leaders of the thematic working groups. This leadership group met twice. The first experience of the new set-up, in spite of the short time since the last Assembly, is positive. Emphasis on the decentralised approach in using and managing the network should continue.

Outcomes of the Basel Assembly shaped ECEN work in the subsequent period of time. The Assembly’s Message for every church and congregation in Europe has been translated into 15 languages. We believe that this, as well as a lot of requests for additional information about the text and its background, can be taken as a sign of wide circulation of the statement. The text is still available on the Internet and an interest has been indicated to translate it into further languages. The statement towards the leaders of G8 countries that met shortly after the ECEN Assembly has been communicated via the official letter of CEC addressed to the meeting.

ECEN Web site received a new design. We trust that it is a step which will help to keep the web site an informed place offering up-to-date information about events and activities in different places in Europe. We would like to encourage all members and friends of the network to use it. At the same time, we would like to encourage members and friends of the network to provide information about projects, activities and good practices they are involved in. Already the web site indicates a number of examples from countries and churches across the continent. Taking care of the Web site is done through the support of the Church of Scotland who provide resources for this important work of ECEN. This is also the place to express gratitude for this support and the activities of our Webmaster Eleanor Todd.

5. ECEN – a part of the ecumenical scene

The last Assembly contributed to wider acceptance of the Network as an ecumenical instrument of European churches to work with the subject of the environment. ECEN serves as an official instrument of the Church and Society Commission of the Conference of European Churches for addressing the environmental agenda. In this regard, two aspects of that work have to be seen. One is successfully developing relations with the churches and among the churches. The network character of ECEN is a good way of responding to the needs in this area. The second is the challenge of the European political institutions and the question of the churches’ response to that challenge. This is an area in which still more to be needs to be done. Deepening of the thematic work and expert work in ECEN would be needed in an effort for successful management of this challenge.

Particular attention needs to be given to the development of the relationship of ECEN to the WCC. The ECEN Basel Assembly contributed in its own way to the preparation of the WCC Assembly in Porto Alegre and, in particular, mention has to be made of a WCC meeting that took place immediately after ECEN Assembly and enabled constructive exchange between ECEN delegates and colleagues from other parts of the globe. Care for the environment cannot work properly without proper attention to the links and interconnections with, as well as responsibilities for other parts of the globe. In ECEN - WCC relations 2 areas are to be particularly mentioned in this regard:

  • WCC climate change programme and the European contribution to it. We enjoy at this Assembly the presence of the WCC coordinator of this programme, David Hallman, which hopefully will contribute to further deepening of the relationship and joint work.
  • Further deepening of the ”˜water initiative’ received a particularly strong impulse from the Porto Alegre Assembly. ECEN is considered as the European branch of the WCC water programme. In this regard, an initiative of the Swiss churches and Brazilian Council of Churches focusing on the issue of water also has to be mentioned. There is a shared interest of several parties to deepen work in this area. The visit of the guests from Brazil at this Assembly will hopefully contribute to this effort.

6. Highlights of activities

  • The conference: ”˜The Theology of Creation Care: Christian Environmental Stewardship’, which has been prepared with cooperation between ECEN and the International Baptist Theological Seminary in Prague, August 2006. The outcomes of the consultation will appear in printed form soon;
  • The Reader commemorating the 20th anniversary of the Chernobyl disaster, April 2006;
  • ECEN contribution to the European Social Forum, Athens, May 2006 and the workshop on Spirituality and Climate change in close cooperation with colleagues from the Greek Evangelical Church;
  • Consultation on Creation Spirituality organised in co-operation with the John Knox Centre in April 2005. Texts of the Consultation will be published soon.
  • The cooperation with the Protestant church in the Netherlands focusing on the issue of climate change and development;
  • ECEN Liturgical Material 2006: Biblical Meditations and Prayers for Creation Time 2006;
  • The publication ”˜Environmental management in the European churches’; September 2006
  • ECEN presence at the 14th session of the UN Commission on Sustainable Development, New York, May 2006;
  • Preparation of the 3rd European Ecumenical Assembly in Sibiu 2007. ECEN has been invited to be responsible, together with the environmental group of the CCEE, for the theme: Care for creation. The joint preparatory group has been established and works intensively;
  • Continuing work on the environmental review (EMAS) of the Ecumenical Centre in Brussels.

Thanks and gratitude to all those who contributed in many ways to programmes and activities linked to ECEN. In particular, I would like to name in this regard leaders of the ECEN working groups: Hans-Hermann Böhm, Ruth Conway, Isolde Schönstein, Marijke van Duin and Lukas Vischer. Equally, thanks for their particular involvement and contribution has to be expressed to Ioanna Sahinidou and her colleagues from the Greek Evangelical Church, Hans Diefenbacher and Luca Negro from the CEC Communications office.

7. Aim of the 6th Assembly

The 6th ECEN Assembly is focusing in its thematic direction on the theme of energy. At the same time, it is the hope of all of us that the Assembly will be a further step in consolidating the network. We need to strengthen links, partnerships and friendships among the members, partners and friends linked to the network, as well as to deepen the content work in the working group. It will be the task for each of the thematic groups working during the Assembly: to evaluate the past, but in particular to come with a proposal for what we want to do in each of the subject areas together. It is an expectation that, at the end of the Assembly, we will be able to have a clear indication of the ECEN programme for the next period of time, which will include also the challenge of the upcoming 3rd European Ecumenical Assembly.

8. Conclusion

We are sorry that not all those who wanted to be with us could finally arrive. We think, in particular, of those of our colleagues and friends who for medical or other reasons were forced to cancel their participation only a few days before the Assembly: Nana Baghaturia, Jan Dubiny, Seta Hadeshian, Alexander Pastor, Maria Petrosyan, Jutta Steigerwald, Vera Shumilova, Petra Vesela and Vanya Walker-Leigh.

The network character of ECEN has to be underlinedin its entire work . ECEN provides a framework for Christians, churches and all people of good will to take seriously the challenge of our relationship with the environment and, in particular, the spiritual side of this relationship. ECEN is not a big structured organisation with numerous staff. It is a network existentially dependent on the contributions and mutual relationship of its members. This is an opportunity to express thanks to all who took the work of ECEN seriously and contributed to it.

It is our hope that the ECEN 6th Assembly will take a step forward in strengthening our work but also in strengthening our collegial links, friendships and partnerships. This all should be, then, an expression of our awareness about the strong link between care for the environment and our faith and spirituality.

Peter Pavlovic
ECEN Secretary