The National Council of Churches in India and the World Council of Churches (WCC) cohosted a webinar on 4 June under the theme “Sustainable Environment: Churches in action.”
As he opened the webinar, Asir Ebenezer, general secretary of the National Council of Churches in India, said that, though coronavirus has shut people out of most places, they are, in some ways, able to be more Christian in the world, particularly in caring for the environment—and caring for each other. “We shared food, we shared our shelter, we shared our hospitals, we shared our schools, we shared our colleges,” he said. “We were Christ-like even though we couldn’t go to our churches.”
Dinesh Suna, coordinator of the WCC Ecumenical Water Network, said he was grateful the webinar could occur, even in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic. “Tomorrow the world will be celebrating World Environment Day,” he said. “The theme this year is biodiversity and this is definitely a concern that is very urgent and is an existential issue.”
Athena Peralta, WCC programme executive responsible for Economic and Ecological Justice said that we are living in a state of climate emergency. “This is not meant to be a dramatic statement,” she said. “This is a fact. This is what science and scientists are telling us. Data, for instance, from NASA reveals that last year, 2019, is the second warmest year ever recorded after 2016.”
Dr Manoj Kurian, coordinator of the WCC Ecumenical Advocacy Alliance, spoke on how food security hinges on caring for the environment. “The world is not created exclusively for human beings but for the trees, the birds, the animals” he said. “One in nine people suffer from hunger.”
Renemla Ozukum, an eco-feminist theologian who serves as a member of the WCC Climate Change Working Group, spoke about engaging faith communities and civil society, and commended churches for being a trusted source of information during COVID-19 lockdowns. She noted that this trust extends to receiving information about caring for creation. “The church played a critical role to validate the seriousness of the pandemic,” she said. “Since the churches have direct contact and communication with their members they can disseminate information very effectively as a trusted channel.”
Mathew Koshy, described how the young student population can help educate people in sustainable living. “Our schools are collaborating with the UN Environment programme,” he said. “These school programs are changing the outlook, attitude and performance of the students. We are the change-makers,” he said.
Michael Angelious spoke from the perspective of a 140-year old Evangelical Lutheran Church in the Orissa region. “The church has huge opportunities and challenges as well,” he said. “We have seen massive deforestation.”