First Assembly- Vilemov 1998

21-25 Ocotber 1998, Vilemov, Czech Republic

Please note that the Vilemov Declaration was revised at the Second ECEN Assembly at Loccum, in October 1999, and a new document of the Structure and Organisation of ECEN was agreed there. That document supersedes the organisational details set out here.


Vilemov (Czech Republic), 25 October 1998

In recent years it has become increasingly clear that the European churches need to collaborate closely on environmental issues. Ecological threats transcend national boundaries and are often best addressed by joint efforts, in addition to the ongoing work on local issues. In June 1997, the Second European Ecumenical Assembly in Graz gave explicit substance to this need for a common witness in adopting the recommendation (5.4) "that a network of persons with environmental responsibilities" within the churches should be set up at a European level.

From 21-25 October 1998, 60 people gathered at the Orthodox Academy of Vilemov in the Czech Republic to explore how to set up such a network, in order to implement this recommendation. They came from 24 countries in both eastern and western Europe, representing Orthodox, Protestant, Anglican and Roman Catholic churches. The Conference of European Churches provided support and organisational assistance. The participants agreed the urgent need for increased collaboration and unanimously decided to found a network, under the name European Christian Environmental Network.

Aims and Organisation of the Network

The aims of the network are to work towards the development of sustainability at all levels, community, regional, national and European. This embraces not only the ecological, but also the social, spiritual, political and economic dimensions of life. It seeks to do this by :

  • promoting environmental responsibility based on Christian convictions
  • pooling information and expertise
  • encouraging and supporting one another in developing practical action to fulfil our ecological responsibilities
  • raising the ecological awareness and commitment of the European churches
  • analysing social and political implications of these issues and promoting joint activities to address them
  • identifying environmental issues arising at the European level and suggesting to the churches ways of dealing with them
  • encouraging the dialogue on environmental issues between European regions (East-West, North-South)
  • stimulating appropriate collaboration with NGOs and with the activities of the European institutions

The network engages in regular activities with its members (consultations, sustained communication, etc.). At the same time ''coalitions of interest'' will be formed within the network around particular issues or regional concerns. Members are also encouraged to work bi- or tri-laterally on specific issues, where appropriate, and to take part in the development of national and regional networks to complement the European network.

Each member of the network remains independent. No member can speak on behalf of the network. Joint activities depend on the initiative and consent of the members. To be effective, the network must be able to count on the commitment of its members.

Sustained communication is essential. It is recommended that the best use be made of electronic communication methods (fax, e-mail, and Internet webpage). Since not all members have access to these means it might be necessary to provide updated information through an occasional information bulletin or by regular mailing of information on computer disks.

The aim is that each year members should be invited to participate in an Assembly which evaluates past and present activities and discusses possible new projects. The next meeting is scheduled for autumn, 1999.

The network is indebted to CEC for its support and generous help. It is also grateful for the interest shown by CCEE and looks forward to an increasing association with the Roman Catholic Church.

The network welcomes the establishment of a working group on economic, environmental and social issues by the Church and Society Commission of CEC. It will seek appropriate ways of interaction for the group's engagement with the European institutions.

Enabling Group

A small "Enabling Group" has been appointed with the following responsibilities:

  • to keep the network going;
  • to encourage new members to join;
  • to organise and prepare for the annual meeting, and to suggest joint activities;
  • to encourage members to take initiatives;
  • to ensure communication among the members and to supervise the website;
  • to be responsible for the budget.

The members of the group are :

  • Donald Bruce (Webmaster, Scotland),
  • Hans-Hermann B?hm (Germany),
  • Andrzej Danilov (Belarus),
  • Marijke van Duin (Netherlands),
  • Roman Juriga (Czech Republic),
  • Eszter Karsay (Hungary),
  • Karen Lexen (Sweden),
  • R?diger Noll (Secretary, Conference of European Churches, Switzerland),
  • Dimitri Oikonomou (England),
  • Isolde Sch?nstein (Austria),
  • Antonella Visintin (Italy),
  • Lukas Vischer (Switzerland).


Priority Environmental Issues

The need for the churches to collaborate on particular issues at the European level has been recognised on many occasions and was most recently raised at the Graz Assembly (June 1997). Seven important issues were identified to be engaged initially. Coalitions of interest would be formed around these in the first year of the network. These are (with their respective moderators) :

  • Climate Change - Karen Lexen (Sweden)
  • Transport and Mobility - Lukas Vischer (Switzerland)
  • Environment and Economics - Donald Bruce (Scotland)
  • Church Environmental Management - Hans-Hermann B?hm (Germany)
  • Local Agenda 21, The Conciliar Process and New Life Styles - Istvan Sido (Romania)
  • Creation Day - Isolde Sch?nstein (Austria)
  • Biotechnology and Genetic Engineering - Donald Bruce (Scotland)
  • Biodiversity - Jean-Pierre Ribaut (France)

These issues are interrelated and the developing work of the coalitions needs therefore to be done in ways which express the holistic dimension of their mutual contribution towards the healing of the brokenness of creation. The network remains open to add to this list of issues in the future.

The first meeting of the European Christian Environmental Network, at Vilemov, focused on the first six of these issues. For practical reasons, it was not possible to discuss genetic engineering but the need was recognised to establish a coalition on this issue during this first year of the network. The following summaries were received from these coalition groups. These discussions will be continued during the coming year and will be evaluated at the next meeting of the network.

Climate Change

Moderator - Karen Lexen (Sweden)
There are two fundamental reasons why the churches should get involved in so complex an issue as climate change.

Firstly, the fact that it is now acknowledged that the climate system of the planet is being disturbed by human activity is an indication that our activities are transgressing God-given principles. As Christians who take their belief in God the Creator seriously, cannot justify ignoring this. They have a responsibility to meet the challenge, both by changing their daily lives and in mobilising pressure towards power holders and policy makers.

Secondly, churches can also contribute by bringing a "holistic" ethical perspective to this very special situation. Climate change highlights some wider problems about the question of development. For example, in the lack of will of the rich to undertake a real change of heart in their lifestyle and in their responsibility to weaker and poorer regions and their people.

  • The coalition should facilitate the deepening and widening of the competence of the churches in understanding the science of climate change, the practical methods to combat it, and the political processes involved.
  • It should enable mutual support for those already working on this issue in each church or country, in lobbying for progressive political change, and informing each other on national policies and implementation.
  • To keep the network updated about what is happening in the climate change negotiations, with analyses and interpretation, through contact with church and other organisations, as well as the EU and the UN.
  • To keep in touch with the environmental working group of the Commission for Church and Society of the Conference of European Churches (CEC), in its interaction with policies and measures on climate change within the European institutions.


Sustainable Mobility

Moderator - Lukas Vischer (Switzerland)
All forecasts predict a dramatic increase in the coming years of road and air traffic. More and more passengers and goods are being transported over ever-growing distances. The damage caused by motorised mobility is becoming increasingly obvious. The situation can be improved to a certain extent by increased technological creativity. But technological devices alone will not be enough. To overcome the impasse a change in lifestyle needs to take place. Spiritual resources are required. There is an urgent need for the European churches to respond. The European Ecumenical Commission for Church and Society (EECCS) ecology and economics working group has already examined the issue of sustainable mobility with regard to European Union policies in its 1995 report : "The Dominant Economic Model and Sustainable Development - Are they Compatible?", and updated this in its follow-on report in 1998. The World Council of Churches (WCC) has also in 1998 launched a study project under the title: "Prospects of Sustainable Mobility", in which it asks its member churches to get engaged in the issue.

Within the framework of the European Christian Environmental Network it is intended to pursue this issue by :

  • sharing information, expertise and resources
  • inviting churches to deal with the issue in their own context
  • promoting a lifestyle and a culture in harmony with the criteria for a sustainable mobility
  • preparing a European response to the WCC study project.


Environment and Economics

Moderator - Donald Bruce (Scotland)
The European Ecumenical Commission for Church and Society and other church groups have identified a deep tension between environmental practice and the dominant economic model, which takes the priority of economic growth, profit and competition as axiomatic. This is made worse by trends towards globalisation and a shift in strategic control from governments to transnational commercial organisations The coalition wishes to explore effective ways to move environmental care up the agenda, at European, national and local levels. Among the issues to discuss are the social and environmental indicators to be used alongside traditional economic indicators, including the environmental costs in energy and other resource use and shifts in taxation. Stress needs to be put on the positive economic effects of good environmental practice and the importance of the social and employment dimension of ecology. Most of the current focus has been on the EU. This needs to be broadened for different national contexts and also to address the commercial sector.

This requires :

  • an ongoing development of expertise, drawing from both church studies and from other organisations
  • keeping informed of developments
  • being aware of opportunities to speak and act in regard to policy making
  • being pro-active in forming relationships with appropriate public and private sector bodies
  • recognising appropriate points of pressure and when to use them

In parallel, the churches need to address those working in industry and business in their congregations, and to become more aware of our own behaviour as consumers, investors, etc.

Church Environmental Management

Moderator - Hans-Hermann B?hm (Germany)
From belief in a loving and creating God, who calls believers to care for the whole created order and from our desire that the church be a credible witness in the world, it is vital for the Church to develop systems of good environmental practice which it can mplement and share.

The essence of Christian environmental audit practice includes:

  • being centred on God's living word and incorporating Christian spirituality
  • being implemented with appropriate technology and expertise
  • sharing and witnessing the practice through communication channels. including the media and information technology.

The potential to reduce energy consumption which will both save the earth and save the church money is noted. Further, the potential of money saved to be used in other positive environmental schemes which may provide employment is identified.

The following points for action are therefore recommended :

  • that each denomination appoint an environmental officer whose duties would include the facilitation of an environmental audit programme
  • that the network promotes the sharing of good practice, resource materials and experience
  • that a Europe-wide validation scheme be developed for the award of an eco-certificate
  • that EU funds be sought to develop and implement such a scheme.
  • that in undertaking environmental audits denominations seek appropriate alliances, for example, on a regional basis or East-West.

It is only after God's House is put in order that the world can be called to take care of the created order too and contribute to the goal of a sustainable Europe.

Local Agenda 21, The Conciliar Process and New Life Styles

Moderator - Istvan Sido (Romania)
In partnership with European Christian Environmental Network (ECEN) organisations and local NGO's, church groups are encouraged to prepare an action plan that will serve to inform relevant bodies (religious leaders, Christian movements, etc) about the meaning both of Local Agenda 21 (LA21) and of the new lifestyle issue. The action plan is to be adapted to the local, social context of each country.

Each delegate is encouraged to investigate and establish partners (such as NGOs and other authorities) which are concerned with LA21 issues. Subsequently, appropriate projects and activities, subjected to regular evaluation and development, are to be implemented collaboratively. Chief among them will be questions of sustainability and ecological sensitivity. No project is to be considered too small but each should be examined according to its environmental merit.

An essential contribution of church groups to LA21 will be the theological and spiritual perspectives. This will be of particular importance to the lifestyle question where the establishment of values based on the Gospel will be sought.

Creation Day

Moderator - Isolde Sch?nstein (Austria)
The proposal from the Second European Ecumenical Assembly to introduce a Day of Creation into the liturgical calendar of the European Churches is affirmed. This day should be given liturgical form and whenever possible celebrated ecumenically. The coalition suggests that liturgical material and a suitable format should be added to the network's Internet website, to enable this material be adapted for use in different local contexts. It would be desirable to celebrate this day on 1 September, as proposed by the Ecumenical Patriarchate in 1989, but there is a need to take into account the diversity of church traditions and the particular needs of the local church.

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Biotechnology and Genetic Engineering

Moderator - Donald Bruce (Scotland)
For organisational reasons it was not possible for this group to begin meeting at Vilemov.


Moderator - Jean-Pierre Ribaut (France)
Owing to lack of immediate support it has not been possible to begin a coalition on this subject for the time being

Assembly Articles