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World Council of Churches holds Ninth Assembly

March 2, 2006:

Last month the World Council of Churches (WCC) introduced several exciting new events to its General Assembly to underline the increasing concern for ecology being expressed by Christians around the world.

The WCC holds an assembly every seven years, and this one, the Ninth, held in Porto Alegre, Brazil was on the theme of: “God, in Thy Grace, transform the world”. As part of this, ARC was invited to offer an exhibition, workshop and lecture about the environmental work done by Christian communities throughout the globe.

Three new events facilitated our contribution. Two were connected with the Mutirão, a grand Forum which enabled a much broader participation of non-church associations in the life of the ecumenical movement, by providing space for workshops, celebrations, seminars and exhibits to be given by a select number of bodies. The Mutirão permitted opportunities to deepen substantive reflections on the theme of the Assembly and representatives were encouraged to bring these reflections into the decision-making processes of the plenary sessions.

How to live according to faith-based ecological principles

ARC’s trustee, and specialist on Orthodoxy and Creation, Dr Dimitri Oikonomou, gave a presentation on how to live according to faith-based ecological principles. His report on ‘Nature for Life’ drew on the challenge of His All-Holiness, Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew that the environment must never be treated as private property and that any indifference towards the vitality of the environment constitutes a blasphemy against God the Creator and a crime against humanity.

He specifically mentioned the relationship of ARC with Mount Athos, the Church of England, the Roman Catholic Church, and the Scandinavian Lutherans. More than 100 representatives of churches and ecumenical organisations requested to join our mailing list.

The Mutirão also hosted a workshop in which ARC was able to give further details about its history and activity to an audience of around 100 people.

Dr Oikonomou gave an informal address on Creation and Diakonia in relation to ARC’s activities and projects, affirming that: "the transformation of the heart and of the community is integrally linked with the healing of the earth. Or, to put it another way, the relationship between the soul and the Creator, as well as among human beings, inevitably involves a balanced relationship with the natural world."

"The way we treat each other is reflected in the way we treat our planet, just as the way we respond to other people, is mirrored in the way we respect the air we breathe, the water we drink, and the food we consume. In turn, moreover, our protection of the natural environment reveals the measure of authenticity of our prayer and worship."

ARC’s third event at the Assembly was as in the newly-created ‘Ecumenical Conversations’ sessions. In one of these ‘Conversations’ devoted to Christianity and the Ecological Problem, Dr Oikonomou was asked to give a formal lecture on the Orthodox Church’s perspectives on theology and creation.

His argument was that the Orthodox Church has highly-developed theological perceptions on ecology at a time when many churches have yet to realize the significance of the connection between religion and ecology. His paper touched on matters such as humanity’s place in the created order and humans as kings, queens, stewards, priests, and prophets of the cosmos.

He ended with a plea for the Christian community to join forces with other faiths in caring for the world’s resources, since we are all a part of a single earth community:

"The time is now, and we are here"

“Ecological witness and action are surely an essential element in our programme of Christian ecumenism. As Christians, still divided yet seeking reconciliation – Catholics, Orthodox, Episcopalians, Protestants – we all share a common belief in the intrinsic goodness of the material world, and this community in faith empowers us to embark on joint action to protect the environment. We need to cooperate also with the members of non-Christian religious traditions, with Jews, Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, Zoroastrians, Jains, and others.

"A start has already been made with the Alliance of Religions and Conservation (ARC)inaugurated eleven years ago by the Ecumenical Patriarch and His Royal Highness Prince Philip, but it requires to be carried much further. Whatever our religious allegiance, let us work together to safeguard this cosmic temple, which God has given all of us as our home. Let us together engage in a dialogue with scientists and politicians, with economic experts and the heads of the great commercial corporations. The support of this last group is crucial, and it is also, alas much the most difficult to secure.

"Let me end with a story from the ecological manifesto issued by the Conference of American Benedictine Prioresses.

"During World War II, a German widow had harboured Jewish refugees in her own home. As her friends discovered the situation, they became extremely alarmed. “You are risking your well-being,” they told her. “I know that”, she said. “Then why,” they demanded, “do you persist in this foolishness?” Her answer was stark and to the point. “I am doing it,” she said, “because the time is now and I am here.”

Link here for the official Assembly website.

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