Shifting perspectives

In Western Europe there has been an exponential growth in reporting of environmental degradation and resource depletion. In Eastern Europe there is less public awareness, but across the continent we face a major educational challenge. The dominant culture seems to be unassailable: life-styles are not shifting, multinational companies are not changing their core activities, air travel continues to expand and international negotiations are held back by national short-term economic interests. The challenge requires more than mere information-giving, rather the provision of learning experiences that motivate and inspire.

The Education Group concentrated on the educational task within the church setting. What is required is a fundamental shift in theological perspective, from an anthropocentric to a creation-centred view; a shift that will be manifested in the life of individuals and congregations and in church leadership. For future ECEN Assemblies, we recommend that theological perspectives on the main theme are presented in the opening plenary session.

Effective learning strategies will have some of the following characteristics:

  • centres on learners’ active participation
  • starts where people are
  • includes direct experience of nature
  • supports personal initiatives and places them in a wider context
  • involves drama, art and creative use of natural resources
  • takes place in groups that provide support and encouragement
  • makes maximum use of multi-media skills of enthusiastic young people
  • is sensitive to the possible turbulence in individual lives and relationships when dealing with core beliefs and values
  • works with stimulating questions and encourages critical thinking
  • uses story-telling as a powerful approach
  • listens to the experience of those who are on the underside of the dominant mode of development

Education is needed at three levels of church life:

1. The life of the congregation

There are many ways to get a congregation started: aspects of eco-management, children's enthusiasm for environmental questions, campaigning on global issues, liturgical celebrations of Creation Tide, women’s programmes. But deliberate initiative is needed to provide educational opportunities with the above characteristics. We hope that examples of good practice will increasingly be placed on the ECEN website to inspire others.

2. Church leadership

These examples of good practice need to be heeded by church leaders so that they can appreciate and support the shift in theological perspective and consequent practical action.

This should in turn encourage church leaders to engage far more with government and business leaders on environmental issues, just as they have traditionally done on social issues. For church leaders to do this effectively, their churches need to walk the talk and follow sound environmental practice in management of church-owned buildings, forests and agricultural land. Churches should also be engaged in events and initiatives associated with the UN Decade of Education for Sustainable Development.

3. Training of future leaders

Following the recommendation of the Education Group in Basel, a seminar was held in Prague in August 2006 in collaboration with the International Baptist Theological Seminary. This seminar addressed the place given to eco-theology and eco-practice in programmes of theological education (the press release is on the ECEN website). Guidelines for theological educators will be published in a book to be distributed as widely as possible including at EEA3 in Sibiu.

Proposal for a seminar

The Education Group recommends that ECEN partners with others to organise a seminar on how religious education can relate more creatively to the education for sustainability which is increasingly taking place in schools.