It's not easy being green in the church
Photo by N. Manginas via The Echumenical Patriarchate

As the song goes, so it is in today’s world. But that doesn’t mean theologians, seminarians and churchwide organizations are not up to the task of “greening” how they do what they do in the faith community.

In early June, theologians, scientists, activists and others gathered in Istanbul to discuss theological formation and ecological awareness. This was the third such conference over the past seven years hosted by the Orthodox Church to bring ecumenical awareness to the global environmental discussion. 

“In light of the ecological crisis, the Halki Summits provide a platform for conversation and promote an atmosphere of dialogue to discern and foster changes in attitudes and lifestyles,” says Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew of the Orthodox Church.

The first summit, held in 2012, was on the theme of “Global Responsibility and Environmental Sustainability” and included prominent speakers such as Jane Goodall and Bill McKibben. 

Halki II was in 2015 on the theme of “Theology, Ecology and the Word: a conversation on the environment, literature and the arts.” And now, four years later, we have the third and final Halki Summit that included substantial input from theologians across the ecumenical spectrum — including Lutherans and Roman Catholics. 

Each speaker had a story to tell about activities going on in their academic community. 

For Celia Deane-Drummond, former professor of theology at Notre Dame University, she advocated for a holistic education that includes theological education highlighting the concern for the poor and the concern for ecology. 

Deane-Drummond this month is taking over as director of the Laudato Si’ Research Institute at the University of Oxford. 

Established by the Jesuits in Britain, the new center will officially open in September with the aim of fostering interdisciplinary research arising out of the intellectual challenges presented by Pope Francis’ famous encyclical, while being faithful to Ignatian traditions and reflective practice.

“The challenge for those of us who have been working at the boundary of ecology, philosophy and theology for the last quarter century is to discern how to implement and work out with intellectual rigor the message of Laudato Si’, and use that as a basis for deeper individual and societal ecological conversion…” says Deane-Drummond of the new institute. “I consider it a great privilege and honor to have been given the opportunity to direct this new initiative.”

She brings a scientific perspective to the effort as well, as she holds doctorates in both plant physiology and theology. 

Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago (LSTC) professor Barbara Rossing also presented at Halki on how LSTC integrates an eco-theological approach into its academic curriculum, an effort she has spearheaded for years at the school.

In addition to her role as the professor of New Testament at the Chicago seminary, Rossing is also the school’s environmental ministry coordinator. She is currently organizing a conference to be held at LSTC on December 5 and 6 that will focus on environmental concerns. 

She was struck by how much work the Orthodox Church Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew has done in this area and how he was even dubbed “the green patriarch” by former Vice President Al Gore. She says he has attracted great interest in moving toward a greening of Orthodox theological education. 

Work is underway at a number of U.S. seminaries thanks a group called The Green Seminary Initiative, which Rossing discussed at the Halki Summit. 

So while it isn’t easy to be green, that hasn’t stopped a good number of people from trying — including an effort called Blessed Tomorrow that focuses on action at the congregational level related to reducing dependence on fossil fuels. 

It also helps to have a growing number of ecumenical partners to share the workload in ultimately reaching people in the pews who are eager to combat climate change too.


Susan Barreto


Susan is an author with a long-time interest in religion and science. She currently edits Covalence, the Lutheran Alliance for Faith, Science and Technology’s online magazine. She has written articles in The Lutheran and the Zygon Center for Religion and Science newsletter. Susan is a board member for the Center for Advanced Study of Religion and Science, the supporting organization for the Zygon Center and the Zygon Journal. She also co-wrote Our Bodies Are Selves with Dr. Philip Hefner and Dr. Ann Pederson.

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