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World Council of Churches’ environment specialist among 157 killed in plane crash

Posted on: March 12, 2019 4:32 PM
Photo Credit: Marcelo Schneider / WCC

An environment expert employed by the World Council of Churches, Norman Tendis, was amongst 157 people who were killed on Sunday when an Ethiopian Airlines flight from Addis Ababa to Nairobi crashed shortly after take-off. Flight ET302 came down near Tulu Fara near Bishoftu, southeast of Bole International Airport from which it had taken off six minutes earlier. Aviation authorities around the world are grounding flights of the same Boeing 737 MAX 8 airliner following the crash - the second involving the same Boeing model since it came into service in 2017.

Pastor Norman Tendis, a priest of the Evangelische Kirche in Österreich - the Evangelical Church in Austria - led the Carinthian Protestant community in Sankt Ruprecht an der Raab in addition to his role as Consultant for Economy of Life with the World Council of Churches. He was travelling to Nairobi to take part in a meeting of the UN Environment Assembly. UN staff members and other environmental advocates who were due to take part in the Assembly were also killed in the accident, including a four-person youth delegation from Canada.

The WCC say that Pastor Tendis was “instrumental in helping local churches invest their resources to make a better planet.” He had been due to present a new five-step “Roadmap for Congregations, Communities and Churches for an Economy of Life and Ecological Justice”, which was launched by the WCC today in tribute to him.

“We express our deepest condolences on the passing of the all the people on board the aircraft, and we have particular anguish upon the loss of our own Revd Norman Tendis, who was passionately carving out a path for economic and environmental justice,” the WCC General Secretary, Dr Olav Fykse Tveit, said.

Dr Tveit said that Pastor Tendis had worked very hard with his colleagues to develop the Roadmap. “This had been his compassion and vision for years”, Dr Tveit said. “He was particularly inspired to do this as a local Lutheran pastor in Austria.”

In a statement, the WCC said that it “joined grieving people around the world in praying for the families of the victims”.

“May God strengthen you and your people in this time of sorrow,” Tveit said. “We hope that the ministry of the churches across the world can also be instrumental in comforting the families and all those who mourn the sudden death of this group of people.”

Professor Isabel Apawo Phiri, WCC’s Deputy General Secretary, added:“Norman walked his talk. He was deeply rooted and committed to his congregation, and was committed to share his experiences and vision with the wider ecumenical family. His focus and enthusiasm was how each local church can contribute to the economic and ecological justice, in the marketplaces, in the communities, among the nations, and with the earth.”

The senior bishop of the Evangelische Kirche in Österreich, Dr Michael Bünker, said that he was “deeply affected and shaken” by news of the plane crash.

“My thoughts and my sincere compassion are with Norman’s wife Astrid, his children and his other relatives”, Bishop Bünker said.

The Environmental Coordinator for the Anglican Church of Southern Africa, Dr Rachel Mash, convenor of the Anglican Communion’s Environment Network (ACEN), is one of more than 3,000 people in Nairobi for the UN Environment Assembly. She is attending the meeting alongside an Anglican Communion delegation - the Anglican Consultative Council has recently received recognition as an NGO with the UN Environment Programme.

“Day One saw participation in the Faith for Earth Event”, Dr Mash said. “Over 100 delegates are registered from faith organisations and there is a strong faith presence at the event.”

Amongst them is Professor Dr Mathew Koshy Punnackad, Director of the Church of South India’s Department of Ecological Concerns. He shared “stories of commitment and hope from India, inspiring us with the breadth of the response to climate change in the Church of South India”, Dr Mash said.

Bishop Julius Wanyoike spoke about the Anglican Church of Kenya’s commitment to combatting climate change. “They are trying to change the overly scientific terms used, so that they can be incorporated in prayers and sermons more widely”, Dr Mash said. “They have a big tree planting campaign with some dioceses starting tree nurseries and encouraging planting for baptisms, weddings and funerals.”

Rabbi Yonatan Neril, the Founder and Executive Director of the Interfaith Centre for Sustainable Development in Jerusalem, told the meeting how the centre has been working with the Anglican Church in Niassa, Mozambique and Upper Shire, Malawi to instal small industrial scale solar farms, which provide energy into the national grid as well as sustainable income for the diocese.

Dr Mash said that meeting has been “overshadowed” by the plane crash. “A moment of prayer was held at the opening of the Assembly and interfaith prayers at lunchtime“, she said. “On Sunday night some of the reps were able to attend evensong at All Saints Cathedral where we were prayed for.”

“The loss of Norman is a great loss for his family, his church, for the WCC colleagues and fellowship, and for the urgent work to protect and care for God’s creation“, Dr Tveit said. “This tragic accident is also a great shock for many colleagues in organisations we work closely with. We have lost many experts committed to work for the sustainability of the whole world.”