Opening Words of a WCC Conference on Just Peace with Earth, and prayers in the Digranes Church, Kópavogur

In gratitude and with a joyful heart I bid you all most welcome to this WCC Conference on Just Peace with Earth, which now is opening here in Digranes Church. Although scheduled to end on Friday Oct 13, the conference will indeed be continued by active WCC participation in the Arctic Circle Assembly of 2017 that will take place in the Conference Centre of Harpa in Reykjavík. There his holiness Ecumenical Orthodox Patriarch Bartholomew I will give the Key Note Speech, and two Breakout Sessions will be arranged by the WCC, in cooperation with the Icelandic Church, on the importance of ethical and religious sentiments and values for reacting effectively to the impending climate changes.

I want to thank all of you who have worked well and enthusiastically for preparing the conference, both abroad and here in Iceland, and also of course the Digranes Church for hosting it, as well as the mayor and the Council of Kópavogur Municipality for showing interest in and appreciating the historical value of WCC convening here in Kópavogur. Meeting here bears witness to an enriching trust and mutual respect between the churches and the civil authorities of this town.

You who are coming from abroad are especially welcomed as dear and precious guests. Most of you have flown in from northern regions, but some also from more southern parts of the world, but all of you have felt and experienced the dire reality of the climate changes which the daily news media reveal to ‘eyes that see and ears that hear.’ How can the Christian Churches respond responsibly to these threats, as both hearing and seeing? They must be attentive to and hear the call of Christ to foster increased sensitivity to this acute reality but also to nurture hope, creative courage, loving care and concern to act wisely, unhesitatingly and concertedly to rescue the endangered environment and the God-created biosphere in Christ´s name.

To ponder and try to answer that serious question, and find means to obey Christ´s call, will assumedly be the main task of this conference, and a radical reaffirmation of the value and demands of Christian stewardship become the guiding principle.

In this year of 2017, the 500-year anniversary of the Reformation of Martin Luther is widely commemorated. Fortunately, the emphasis on reviewing its historical impact is not on what dogmatically separates us Christians of today, but on the contrary, rather on all that unites and ties together the entire World Christian Community. Our unity has never been more important than as we face the serious challenges of our times, and particularly the impending climate crisis.

This calamity requires that Christianity prove its worth as a protective shield of genuine human values and an illuminating light and creative force of saving reforms, which need to appear, both in worship in our individual Churches and in their explicit support of measures and policies that aim at sustainability.

But why Iceland? Why come here for this Conference? – As an island, Iceland is surrounded by the sea. It borders to the north the arctic areas, but to the south only the vast ocean is found until it reaches the Antarctica. – It also feels like this country stretches out its arms to both continents in the east and the west. The Eurasian tectonic plate and the North American tectonic plate meet in Iceland, so at least geologically speaking, the easiest way to bridge the continents would be here.

This kind of mind mapping draws by imagination a cross through Iceland on the global scene. -To see in the light of Christ is indeed always to look from his cross, as the central vantage point, feel there his sacrificial love and be also grasped by the light of his resurrection to clearly realise the darkness of evil, misery and suffering in this world, without, however, despairing, and simultaneously be grasped by the renewing power of the Holy Spirit.- Grasped by the Sprit to relieve the hurtful bondages of human miseries and evil and now also to alleviate the heavy burdens of the exploited and maltreated earthly ecosystem.-

Due to the often clear and sweeping view given in the Icelandic landscape and also by the location of the country in the middle the Atlantic, away from most other countries, people from abroad often feel as if seized here by a sense of opening horizons, and also by liberating freedom and refreshed understanding of the mysteries of life and the whole created order. The long-standing democratic tradition in the country, as well as the edifying impacts of Christianity from the earliest times of the settlement of Iceland in the late ninth century, may truly have influenced these sentiments. Tourists are now flocking to Iceland, attracted by the often breath-taking landscape and the lure of history, but probably also by a sense of finding a revealing vantage point and a wide horizon.

When, in early nineteenth century, explorers and adventurers came to Iceland from abroad to investigate the country and get acquainted with its inhabitants, they could not quite decide for themselves whether the landscape was ugly or beautiful. As they noticed the contrasts of the burning fires revealed in the bubbling lava streams and the mass of ice accumulated in the glaciers, they felt both attracted and repelled by the awesome but also threatening Icelandic nature and landscape.

The contemporary Icelandic biologist and cherished poet, Jónas Hallgrímsson, resonates well in his works the prevailing sentiments of his countrymen towards the land and its nature as being pervaded by God´s Spirit and also their felt obligation to respect nature as being a holy entity. His poem Smávinir fagrir, „You star-strewn flowers’’ as it is translated in English, gives clear evidence of these sentiments.

After my prayers Margrét Bóasdóttir, the Music Director of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Iceland, will sing this poem of Hallgrímsson set to a melody of the Icelandic composer, Atli Heimir Sveinsson. She will be accompanied on the Organ by the Church organist, Sólveig Sigríður Einarsdóttir.

In the 15th chapter of the Gospel of John, Jesus says: 4 Remain in me, as I also remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me. 5 “I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.” Amen.

Let us pray: Dear Lord! Bless this WCC Conference on Just Peace with Earth and the Arctic Circle Assembly here in Iceland. Open our hearts and minds to your presence in the Holy Spirit to see and hear clearly what you want of us Christians when confronting and responding to the serious climate changes that face us.

Open our eyes and ears to the wonders and value of your creation which is redeemed in Jesus Christ and will be saved from all its bondages through him as the Tree of Life and all of us who become fruitful branches and leaves in response to his recreating presence. May we at this conference experience your guidance and the inspiration of the Holy Spirit and feel and sense with gratitude and joy the empowering synergy of your recreating work in the lectures and dialogues of the conference and in the making of the Conference Message.
May this conference may have a positive and lasting impact by furthering a paradigm shift for climate rescue through the combined efforts, witness and work of the World Council of Churches and the World Christian Community, in Christ´s name. – And now please join me, in your own languages, as I recite the Lord’s Prayer in Icelandic. Faðir vor….

Opening Words of a WCC Conference on Just Peace with Earth, and prayers in the Digranes Church, Kópavogur, Wednesday, October 11, 2017