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See also:
Fourth Ecology Summer School 2007
2nd Ecology Summer School - Aug 2003
First Ecology Summer School - Aug 2000

Ecumenical Forum of European Christian Women 2003

What will our common future look like?

A summer school organised by European Christian women
concerned about sustainable living
Svaty Jur, Slovakia, August 2003

This was the second summer school of its kind: the first was held in Svaty Jur in 2000 with the theme Living Better with Less. Thirty participants came from 10 European countries - East Central and West - and a spread of Orthodox, Catholic and Protestant churches, in order to reflect on the future of the continent we all belong to, and how it can relate to the countries of the Third World. The starting points were the major concerns and preoccupations each of us brought from her/his own country.

In presentations, discussions and workshop sessions, we faced each other with a wide range of questions around four main thematic areas:

" Sustainability in a globalised world
" Human relationships and medical ethics
" Social justice
" The Ecumenical Movement

The question of sustainability was a thread running through all our discussions.
How can we deal more fairly with the life-sustaining resource of water, both in Europe and in other parts of the world?
Why does genetic modification turn out to be so contrary to sustainability in agriculture and to threaten the food security in many poorer countries?
How can the oppressive power of money be brought under control?
Why is it that the rich always get richer while the poor only get poorer and poorer?
How can we change our consumer priorities?
How are our life-styles affecting our common future?
How can even small children be made aware of the beauties of nature - which so badly need our protection rather than our exploitation?

Alongside care in handling the environment were the concerns about care in our relationships with one another.
How can young people develop a confident sense of personal identity that will help them take responsibility for the welfare of others and for the future?
How can we prevent the isolation of those who are being discriminated against?
Which ways of thinking (shaped by women's experience) can we set against the attitudes and perspectives that lead to invasive reproductive technologies and the growing influence of prenatal diagnostics?
Not least, how can we reshape our ways of communicating with one another so as to avoid the dangers of life-threatening conflict?

Some conflicts are of course all too familiar, still awaiting a genuine and just solution.
The victims of the nuclear disaster of Chernobyl and of the heavy metal poisoning in the Baia Mare region of Romania were needing help when we first met in the summer school in 2000, and are still waiting.
Ways have to be found to oppose vigorously the trade in human beings, the majority women, first in the places where, like modern slaves, they are made to live in squalid and degrading conditions, and also in the countries from which they come.
Oppressed groups like the Romanies in Slovakia, Romania and Moldavia need positive discrimination if they are to have a fair chance in life.
The products of fair trade cooperatives in poorer countries must be sold in our supermarkets, and we must be ready to pay a bit extra for them so that their producers can survive.

Our fourth theme was the ecumenical movement.
Cooperation between divided churches is far from straightforward, probably most of all in those countries which have long had unchallenged Orthodox majorities and that were ruled until recently by Communist parties.
A far reaching cooperation in environmental matters across Europe is now being pursued by the European Christian Environmental Network, about whose work we received a full report.
These and other ecumenical concerns formed the essential background to our entire meeting, not least in the songs and prayers from very different Christian traditions with which we began and ended each day.

The amount of information we shared and the quality of the contributions we brought were probably comparable to those of other conferences.
Yet what was different was the atmosphere of our relationships and the striking diversity in the participants. We had four married couples (within a women's conference), one of them with two children, as well as a mother with a teenage daughter. One of the men was a former staff member of the World Council of Churches which proved very helpful on several of our themes. Between them, the men looked after the driving and the interpretation, brought fresh fruit for our coffee breaks and took care of the children. Artistic activities, a relaxing FelderKrais programme, and opportunities to learn folk dances, ensured that the summer school was richly multidimensional.

The participants are intending to keep contact with one another, for instance:
" providing help for the social projects arisiing from the disasters in Chernobyl and Baia Mare.
" beginning to plan for a press campaign to draw attention to the extent of trafficking in women that is one of the crying scandals of today's Europe.
" celebrating Creation Day on 1 September in our congregations as called for by the Ecumenical Patriarch.
We most sincerely wish much success to these and other projects which members of the summer school will be initiating and nurturing in their home churches and communities stemming from the thinking and planning we shared together in Slovakia.

Ruth Conway September 2003
Email: "ruthconway at abelian.net"

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