Education Group Report from Basel Assembly

The Education Working Group drew on a wide range of educational experience, mainly in non-formal church settings and theological academies, from Central, Eastern and Western Europe (Bulgaria, Czech Republic, Germany, Hungary, Ireland, Italy, Latvia, Lebanon, Poland, Romania, Russia and the UK). All members of the group were keenly aware that education and learning must be at the heart of moving towards a sustainable Europe.

In Central, Eastern and Western Europe alike, this education takes place within a dominant individualistic consumer culture. When people are faced with evidence of environmental crises, this culture has little to offer: it is part of the problem rather than the solution. People despair and see no effective way in which to contribute to a future worth living.

The educational task is therefore no mere information-giving, but the provision of learning experiences that motivate and inspire, leading to what the consultation of the European Bishops' conferences called 'ecological conversion': profound changes of heart and mind by which people respond to God's gift of life, in all its variety and interdependence, with repentance, reverence, care and restraint.

To this end, one specific contribution that the churches can make is to offer attractive models of simple, but deeply satisfying, life-styles that demonstrate ecological sensitivity and sustainability, and also integrate work and worship, direct experience of nature and creative ritual, prayer and action. There are an increasing number of monastic communities in different parts of Europe, but not least in Romania, that illustrate this holistic approach, integrating sustainable farming practices, provision of nutritious food, worship and hospitality. This can encourage and motivate others, turning tourists into pilgrims and consumers into those who live by an ethic of sufficiency. Arrangements should be made at the Third Ecumenical Assembly in Sibiu for participants to visit such monasteries.

Further recommendations from the Group, which will largely depend on its members exploring the possibilities in their own situation, were:

  1. Churches should be asked to strengthen the place given to eco-theology and eco-practices in all programmes of theological education, for clergy and for lay people, and in the training of teachers of religious education.
    A clear need was expressed for an outline programme combining eco-theology and practice that could be adapted in different national and educational settings. In the first instance, where existing courses are identified (such as the Masters programme in applied theology offered by the International Baptist Theological Seminary in Prague, developed jointly with the Orthodox Academy in Vilemov), reference and links can be put on the website.
    Beyond this, funding should be sought (from UNESCO as part of the Decade of Education for Sustainable Development?), for a workshop/seminar to be held, perhaps in Prague or Latvia, that would evaluate a number of existing courses and develop a flexible outline programme that could be offered as a key component in theological education and training.
  2. Educators in the churches could work with their national Education and Environmental Ministries to implement the UNECE (United Nations Economic Commission for Europe) Strategy for Education for Sustainable Development (ESD) that was adopted in March 2005 for the European region. Churches could make an important contribution in both formal and informal education by ensuring that the values base and spiritual dimensions of ESD are adequately included.
  3. The Group commended the programmes for journalists and reporters on green issues being offered by the (Roman Catholic) organisation Greenaccord.
  4. The Group would like CEC to explore possible ways to encourage the Romanian Orthodox Church to open the office that they have set up in Brussels but never actually opened. This is in order that it can be a channel of support for the ecologically sustainable agriculture being promoted among small farmers by the monasteries in Romania.
  5. The educational implications should be a key issue in the Forum on Creation theology at the Sibiu Assembly. The workshop suggested above could be one way of preparing for this.