Only in recent times have many of the churches rediscovered their responsibility
for the whole of creation and for future generations. Churches should proclaim
a sustainable lifestyle with great humility in the awareness that for a long
time they themselves have been part of the predominant, destructive way of living.
However, churches cannot claim a monopoly of solutions, especially not those
coming from the technical and scientific fields.
It is against this background that we ask: What can churches do in terms of
their cooperative witness for a sustainable lifestyle? We wish to highlight
some important challenges for the churches:
a) The churches have a prophetic responsibility; that is, they are not simply
social institutions which behave according to their own laws. Their task is
to listen carefully to God's message in order to address today's issues. In
translating God's will for modern times, the churches must be open to the
world. They must read the signs of the times, dealing with the suffering of
creation and listening to people as they share their stories, experiences
and knowledge. The churches' prophetic task is to proclaim God's message to
the world, even if it appears to be inconvenient, because it challenges present
trends and practices. However, not every message from the churches which contradicts
present trends is prophetic: it is essential that the message has its foundation
in Scripture and Tradition.
b) Churches also must proclaim a message of hope in the face of every sign
of destruction. Many people today, especially the young, possess much knowledge
and many insights about the distressing state of the planet. What is often lacking,
however, is hope and a confidence in the future. Heightening people's fear and
bad conscience may lead to paralysing frustration and fatalism. The churches'
belief in the Kingdom of God, God's grace in Jesus Christ and the renewing capacity
of the Spirit should be a source of joy, inspiration and encouragement.
c) The proclamation of hope will not automatically change in the present situation.
Therefore, the churches must give a credible witness in their own daily life
and should thereby be credible co-operators in God's ongoing act of creation.
Recognizing their own weaknesses as well as their own responsibility the churches
ought to be good examples in practising a sustainable lifestyle which reflects
the wholeness and holiness of life.
d) The churches recognize the spiritual dimension of life. They should advocate
worship as an integral part of a sustainable lifestyle. The eucharist, meditation
and prayer are ways in which we listen to God, put ourselves at God's disposal,
open ourselves to be filled with the Holy Spirit and are sent out on a mission
of action for the survival for the whole of creation.
These challenges could, for instance, be met:
- by raising the awareness and commitment of believers with regard to their
environmental responsibilities and capacity to act;
- by celebrating creation, through worship and liturgy, intercession and preaching;
elements of worship should aim to link creation more clearly with daily life;
- by education and formation at all levels in the church, including the training
of believers, teachers and ministers;
- by dialogue and co-operation with other religions, especially insofar as
Europe is increasingly made up of multi-faith societies;
- by dialogue and co-operation with non-governmental organizations, governments,
universities, and so on, in view of the extent of common interests concerning
- by promoting ways of implementing Agenda 21, the action programme for the
21st century adopted at the United Nations Conference for Environment and
Development (UNCED) in Rio 1992, involving families, parishes, churches, local
communities and the society as a whole;
- by promoting everyday measures for environmental protection, the prevention
of biodiversity, energy savings and systematic environmental auditing in parishes
and all church-related institutions;
- by taking ecological considerations into account in all church-related activities
including, for example: construction of buildings, management of lands, organization
of parish centres, energy and resource consumption, and production and disposal
- by promoting together with others the national and regional implementation
of international ecological standards and conventions and resisting environmentally
harmful actions such as nuclear testing.
© 2001 by Ulrich Schmitthenner