Feeding the Future - reflections from Prague

Wisdom is not based on the fact that we know many things but in our ability to realise what we know (St. Issac of Syria, 6th Century)

The International Baptist Theological Seminary (IBTS) was the setting for the 8th Assembly of the European Christian Environmental Network (ECEN) when it gathered in Prague from 9th-13th June 2010. It attracted 85 participants from 23 European countries, from as far apart as Greece and Ireland. The theme was 'Our Daily Bread - living in a time of climate change'.

As is usual with these biennial events, it began and concluded with worship, including the final service held in a local Czech Bethren church at their kind invitation. During the week we experienced a new interpretation of an Adam and Eve litany, an Orthodox ‘Akathist’, United Methodist prayers, a Baptist communion, Celtic singing and a ‘Cosmic Walk’ led by a Roman Catholic sister. Such diverse liturgies both enriched our discussions as well as rooting them in our relationship to God.

Scottish Quaker and theologian Alastair Macintosh opened the proceedings with an inspiring call to radically review our attitudes to consumerism, which he named as a 'wounded beast running amok'. He also spoke of the role of faith being to deepen our resilience (our capacity to absorb change), which he sees as a spiritual task for our time.

A number of scientists from the Czech Republic outlined the links between food and climate, including the growing impacts of global agriculture on planetary warming. For instance, intensive meat production is the number one contributor to greenhouse gas emissions. Additionally, species and habitats are already becoming extinct or lost as human demands for cheaper unseasonable food take effect, and soils are frequently so overstressed with agro-chemical inputs that they can contribute carbon to the atmosphere rather than absorb it.

Faced with such challenges, we are all called urgently to take action to reverse these trends as part of our ministry to preserve the processes which animate God’s creation. Our Christian heritage teaches us to deny the power of dying over living, and this will lead us to reject idols of excessive consumer dependency. In the words of the writer of Deuteronomy 30 - we should choose life, not death.

Small thematic groups also met during the event and put together recommendations for action on matters such as Climate Change, Theology, Food and Eco-Management. I also led a few sessions on Transition Communities, showing the film 'Transition One' and speaking about the number of grassroots transition initiatives developing in Devon (and elsewhere) in response to global warming and peak oil.

Those attending the Assembly met with local church members and paid visits to local green projects. These included a trip to an eco-technical museum at a former sewage treatment plan; an historical wooden church building that uses no electricity; and a 1950s Hussite church and community centre which produces all its hot water through solar thermal panels mounted on its roof.

Amongst others, there were also stories from the Sunflower Centre for Ecological Education, a biodiversity scheme in Slovakia and the work of the Centre for Appreciation of Renewable Energy Resources at the Orthodox Academy in Vilemov.

To make a point of our own energy footprints, participants were encouraged to travel by greener transport to Prague (I took the train via Brussels and Cologne), and the meals provided were all good quality vegetarian food. We even made some of our own bread from local ingredients and appreciated the native biodiversity by taking walks in the area. We literally walked the talk!

As well as the conference of European Churches (CEC), ECEN also has strong relationships with partners such as the World Council of Churches, the European Catholic Bishops’ Conference and World Student Christian Federation. All these were actively engaged in the Prague assembly and its discussions.

In the face of the world's economic crises, it is essential that our Christian churches do not lose their vigilance in keeping ecological sustainability and stability on the political and social agenda of our countries. After the disappointment after Copenhagen it is vital to share messages of hope and possibility. The Prague Assembly did just this.

Some of the outcomes of the five days together were a letter to the churches and a short reflection on The Lord’s Prayer, as well as commendations for action on concerns such as GMO's, excessive food miles and food insecurity. In addition, the personal networking is invaluable and meeting others involved in similar work but from different countries is particularly invigorating.

It is always very encouraging and energising to meet with people from other places who have common goals of Christian engagement with green issues. Sharing positive experiences and creative ideas is a vital way of broadening and deepening our own part in sustaining God’s living creation. The old saying about 'thinking globally and acting locally' really comes alive in such gatherings.

Martyn Goss, Diocese of Exeter. June 2010

P.S. I attended on behalf of the Archbishop's Council representing the Church of England. For me the benefits of being involved are certainly personal in terms of building contacts and sharing ideas, but also more organisational. To be present and work with others at such an event is an important statement of support and solidarity. It gives others a different perspective to what they might think of the Anglican Communion, and continues equally to open our eyes to the rich and complex diversity of the Church of Christ. We share areas of common working and learn from one another, and of course pick up suggestions to apply to our own situations. I was taken this year with the ways churches in Central Europe are working on renewable energy, and it strengthened my resolve to work on the same within my own Diocese and beyond in South West England.