By Stephen Brown*
Hundreds of people from many nations and confessions, among them pastors, priests, laity, nuns, bishops, archbishops and cardinals, joined in a service for God’s Creation at Notre Dame cathedral in Paris during the United Nations climate conference (COP 21) being held in the city.
“It is our moral obligation to engage actively in favour of environmental protection”, said (Orthodox) Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I in a message read to the congregation at the service on 3 December. “It is not too late to act, but we cannot allow ourselves to put off until tomorrow what we can do today.”
Bartholomew, often described as the “green patriarch” because of his support for environmental issues, had been scheduled to be present in person at the service, but his visit to France was postponed.
Instead, the patriarch’s message was read by Orthodox Metropolitan Emmanuel of France. He is one of the three co-presidents of the Council of Christian Churches in France (CECEF) which organized the service, alongside Roman Catholic Archbishop Georges Pontier of Marseille and the Rev. François Clavairoly, president of the Protestant Federation of France.
In his message, Patriarch Bartholomew urged the development of an “ecological spirituality” to encourage a conversion towards a radical change in lifestyle.
The ecumenical service opened with a procession of lay people, young and old, and of clergy and church leaders from France and beyond, garbed in white, black, red and purple robes.
They included Cardinal André Vingt-Trois, the archbishop of Paris, WCC general secretary the Rev. Olav Fykse Tveit, Archbishop Antje Jackelen, primate of the Church of Sweden, who read the lesson, and Brother Alois, prior of the Taizé Community.
Welcoming the congregation to the cathedral, Cardinal Vingt-Trois underlined the need for Christians “to assume our share of responsibility for the life of our common home”.
On the walls of the 13th-century cathedral, worshippers could see a display of large tapestries, “Ode to Creation”, on display to mark the UN conference. Music was provided by three choirs – the resident choir of Notre Dame, the Greek Orthodox cathedral choir and a Malagasy Protestant choir.
Objects symbolizing God’s Creation – a cotton and a linen cloth, silverware, pottery, olive oil, a musical instrument, a paper folded boat – were brought forward during the service.
“We are aware that creation is a gift entrusted to us and that we are all responsible to future generations for the whole inhabited earth,” said Yeb Sano, the Philippines’ climate negotiator turned campaigner, as the worshippers rose when the final object, a model globe, was presented.
Inviting the congregation to prayer, WCC general secretary Tveit spoke of the “moment of truth” facing the world.
In a message read out during the service, the CECEF urged political and economic leaders “to take the decisions necessary to limit warming to 2 degrees so that the most vulnerable of our brothers and sisters and future generations do not suffer more”.
The liturgy included prayers for peace in France and other countries that have been recent targets of violence. “We commit to act and pray for peace together,” said CECEF co-president Clavairoly before the congregation shared a sign of peace with each other.
The service was the highpoint of the CECEF’s work on climate change and the environment in the months leading up to the UN conference. The order of service was shared in advance and used by groups across Europe and beyond for their own prayers.
Célébration oecuménique (video of the ecumenical prayers at Notre Dame)
French Protestant Federation (in French)
*Stephen Brown works as a freelance journalist and communicator and is president of the European region of the World Association for Christian Communication