VBO 22:  Deeply Rooted: Congregations in search of an inspiring vision for God’s earth

Contact Chrisna van der Merwe at: 021-808 3624; cmer@sun.ac.za

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Presenters: Prof Ernst Conradie (UWC), Ms Kate Davies (SAFCEI) and Bishop Geoff Davies (Anglican Church, SAFCEI)
Date: 4–6 May 2010
Place:  Faculty of Theology, Stellenbosch
Themes and goals
The purpose of this workshop is to explore the ways in which local Christian congregations/parishes/faith communities are addressing ecological concerns. In what ways have Christians been responding to environmental threats? How should they respond? What could they realistically do in this regard?

The workshop will investigate how these questions suggest a double-sided agenda. Firstly, there are questions about what local Christian communities could contribute to address and overcome environmental threats. Secondly, ecological concerns raise challenges to churches that may require from Christians nothing less than an ecological reformation, transformation and conversion. This reformation touches upon every aspect of our lives – our habits, attitudes, values, virtues, thought patterns, the way in which we read the Bible, our ministries, our understanding of the Christian faith, our worldviews and cosmologies.

The theme of this workshop “deeply rooted” is also double-sided. On the one hand, it suggests that churches should respond to ecological concerns on their own terms, drawing on the deepest roots of the Christian tradition, the Bible, the Christian faith, theological resources, liturgies, prayers, saints and martyrs. An ecological reformation would therefore require from Christians to delve deeper into their own faith, not necessarily to adopt agendas from the outside. On the other hand, it emphasises that local congregations are indeed local, located, rooted in a particular context and soil. How could the church become indigenous? How could the gospel take root in this earth? This requires from Christians to keep together faith in God as Creator of heaven and earth and as Saviour, the product of God’s work and the message of the redemption of the earth (not from the earth). This is only possible if the tension between roots and vision (roots and wings) is maintained. What is required from local Christian communities is to learn to look at God’s earth through God’s eyes – with compassion and justice. The role of the liturgy and Christian worship is therefore crucial.
During the course we will investigate the following themes:
• Where do churches stand on ecological concerns?
• What are the main ecological problems that we are faced with?
• Why is addressing ecological concerns regarded as a moral and spiritual problem?
• What impact does consumerism have on the church itself?
• Why should Christians address ecological concerns on their own terms? Why should Christians be engaged in earthkeeping?
• What, then, can pastors do to engage in an ecological reformation of Christianity and to respond to environmental threats?

After this course participants should be able to …
• Articulate how local churches are responding to environmental threats and how they could be responding;
• Explain what is meant by an “integrated notion of the environment”;
• List the most important global and local environmental threats;
• Explain why environmental problems such as climate change is regarded by many as a moral and indeed spiritual problem
• Articulate their own dominant theological rationale for earthkeeping;
• Discuss its strengths and weakness in comparison with other theological rationales;
• List the full range of levels at which a local Christian congregation can respond to ecological concerns;
• Explain what is meant by the notion of an “eco-congregation”; and
• Identify the three most important earthkeeping initiatives that would be feasible within the congregations where they are ministering.