This fall the fifth gathering of the initiative Faith in Green, in Dutch ‘Geloven in Groen’, will take place in The Hague. Muslims, Hindus and Christians gather around their common beliefs of taking care for and protecting the earth and inspire and connect to take (joint) action to make their faith community more sustainable. Initiatives of Change Netherlands (IofC) coordinates and facilitates the initiative that kicked-off in August one year ago.
Building bridges in a segregated city
It all started in September 2016. Jetty Karthaus, who works for the municipality of The Hague, approached IofC to have a conversation about a possible new initiative on faith and sustainability. The municipality is determined to act upon the Sustainable Development Goals set in Paris in 2015, and Karthaus identified a need of faith communities to lower energy consumption, cut waste and raise more awareness for sustainability. Karthaus was intrinsically motivated to set up this initiative: ‘I was very touched by Pope Francis’ encyclical 'Laudato si' to care for our earth and take action to tackle global warming and other environmental challenges. As this stewardship to serve, protect and preserve the earth is present in all religions, I wanted to start a sustainable initiative with faith communities. To test the waters an interfaith event on sustainability was organized in June 2016. There was a lot of interest which convinced me it was time to start the search for a partner which led me to IofC.’
Karthaus’ request was received with enthusiasm by Willem Jansen and Laura Reijnders as they saw an opportunity to build bridges of trust in the most segregated city of the Netherlands. It is a chance to bring together people from different faith communities that would not meet each other in daily life. By creating a space where they can meet around their common interest of taking care of the earth. By meeting one another they can tackle this important issue together, and connect and inspire each other in their strive for a more sustainable world.
Sustainability as a unifying factor
In January 2017 the project started with a mapping of potential faith communities that were interested to participate. As Jansen previously worked many years for the Foundation for City and Church in The Hague he was able to approach various faith communities in the city quite easily. Moreover, he saw a chance to apply the method of diapraxis with which he has a lot of positive experience. Jansen: ‘Diapraxis creates a shared space where groups with different world views work together and in this process of collaboration are able to deal with their differences meaningfully.’
After four months of assessing the needs of different faith communities, Jansen was optimistic to start the initiative. Several members of different Muslim, Christian and Hindu communities were intrinsically motivated to participate in this new initiative. It turned out that sustainability was a unifying and binding factor, because taking care of the other and preserving it for future generations was very important for all of them. This is how the name of the initiative ‘Geloven in Groen’ came to mind which translates into Faith in Green.
More gardens and smart management of water and energy
The first gathering made Jansen a bit nervous as only 4 people filled in the registration form to confirm their presence. ‘But we got a pleasant surprise as at least 40 people participated in this first gathering in the Indonesian mosque. During the course of the project we learned that calls and visits are the way to engage with and keep connected to the participants of Faith in Green.’ At the moment more than representatives of 20 houses of worship are taking part in the gatherings including mosques, churches and a Hindu temple.
The gatherings always begin with an element of spirituality from the participating religions. Subsequently, the group splits into two subgroups that discuss. One group goes into the topic of cutting energy and water consumption, smarter management of these resources and investing in renewable energy. The ultimate goal of this group is to decrease energy consumption which leads to less carbon emission and a smaller ecological footprint. The second group explores how to increase the green areas surrounding the houses of worship (see photo on the right). The Hague has a lot of pavement and roads making it quite difficult to absorb rain and heat from sun. Participants plan to create more space for gardens that also let biodiversity thrive. And next to the participants, experts provide their insights, experience and knowledge about sustainable measures and financing.
First steps towards a more sustainable community
Since the start of Faith in Green mainly local media have showed interest and covered it in their newspaper or website. A month ago a national magazine on religion and society called Volzin, published a four page article about the initiative. This and other articles give visibility to the people and show their personal stories. Ramazan Odek (left on photo below) from the Turkish Mosque proudly points out the fourteen solar panels on their roof which have been realized by the contribution of ten Turkish families in the neighborhood. ‘According to Islam, Allah has appointed human beings as the guardians of creation. The Prophet said that you should plant a tree even if it is your last deed.’
Another story comes from a community of the Reformed Church Morgenster. They invested a lot in the last couple of years to make their church more sustainable. Gijsbert Pellikaan (right on photo below) elaborates: ‘Being sustainable is self-evident as it is a part of being a Christian. At our church we have invested in double glazed windows, isolation and solar panels. And we changed our garden recently to make it friendlier for our neighborhood and more attractive for bees and insects.’ Sewa Dhaam, the largest Hindu Temple in the Netherlands, resides in an old school building from 1923. After investing in transforming it into a temple, adding eleven domes, the community now wishes to invest in insolation and a sustainable heating system. Pandit Tewarie (middle on photo below) from the Sewa Dhaam agrees with Pellikaan: ‘You cannot see sustainability as something separate from Hinduism. Hindus meditate a lot and for meditation you need clean air. To work on better air quality as a community, we have decided to invest in cutting our carbon emissions. Faith in Green has motivated us to take action and make our temple more sustainable.’
By Laura Reijnders
Photos by Martine Sprangers and Jurriaan Brobbel
Graphic recording by Willemijn Lambert