Mount Kilimanjaro pokes through the clouds like an inverted cone dipped into white cream. Still, even on a winter's day, from the nearby town of Moshi, the mountain's majestic snow-capped peak shows bald patches, and these are increasing - writes Peter Kenny.
The melting snow on Kilimanjaro worries many people, not least the churches, which say they are deeply concerned about what humanity is doing to God's creation, the earth.
"Kilimanjaro's ice cap is now projected to vanish entirely by as early as 2020," Tanzania's former prime minister, Frederick Sumaye, told a meeting of the main governing body of the Lutheran World Federation, its council, in Arusha, which lies close to the foothills of the mountain, Africa's highest peak.
"Expansion of agricultural activities on the slopes of Mount Kilmanjaro, deforestation and forest fires have contributed to the decline of the ice cap on the mountain," Sumaye noted in his 27 June keynote speech.
Yet, what can churches and religious bodies do that ecological groups are not doing, and how can they engage on the issue without merely replicating what is happening in secular society?
These have been among questions raised at the 25-30 June Lutheran World Federation (LWF) meeting, whose theme is, "Melting Snow on Mount Kilimanjaro - A Witness of a Suffering Creation".
The federation's president, Bishop Mark Hanson, said it is a "spiritual blasphemy" to treat God's creation as, "an adversarial wilderness, a godforsaken wasteland, a natural resources dump to be used for our own self interest rather than cared for in obedience to God for its own sake".
Hanson, who is also the presiding bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, urged Lutheran churches to push for changes in policy and practice.
"Hope compels us to be disciplined, courageous, faithful stewards of the whole creation," said the LWF leader. He noted that the Bible's Book of Genesis made it clear that humankind, "has rebelliously seized and abused the creation".
The Lutheran federation president also said an emerging global food crisis that had sprung up is "interrelated" with higher fuel prices and climate change.
"Suddenly there is a radical upsurge in the reality of hunger, which is absolutely tied to the crisis around fuel, which is tied to the crisis around the climate and environment," Hanson said.
"Food security or 'food sovereignty' may be emerging as one of the major challenges of the 21st century," the LWF's general secretary, the Rev. Ishmael Noko, noted in his report to the Lutheran body. Noko said the question of food security was not an isolated issue but a complex combination of factors that include climate change, increasing water scarcity, population growth and increasing wealth, especially in fast-developing economies, lack of investment in domestic agricultural production; and unfair trade policies.
Former Tanzanian prime minister Sumaye, who is a Lutheran, told the council meeting, "The history of degradation is very old, spanning many millions of years … [Earth] has survived natural and man induced calamities since its creation, when Adam, the first man, was punished by God to eat from his own sweat by tilling the land."
Sumaye has helped the LWF-initiated Inter-Faith Action for Peace in Africa group. "We see in Tanzania that we can use the good relations between Christians and Muslims to face climatic challenges," said the former prime minister, who also noted that inter-faith advocacy on climate was an area where different faiths can cooperate.
The Rev. Alte Sommerfeldt, who heads Norwegian Church Aid, told delegates, "We have to examine and open the biblical texts that relate to the environment" to develop a policy based on the Scriptures.
Sommerfeldt later told Ecumenical News International, "When churches discuss environmental issues, they need to underline and re-read the biblical texts. We need to look at new ways of reading those texts in the Bible. This is an extremely important element of being engaged on climate issues."
The Norwegian, who is general secretary of NCA, which he calls a non-governmental organization, "anchored in the Christian faith", and that supports, "the poorest of the poor", said it was also important for churches to think out their strategies clearly.
"In helping politicians and people's movements to influence the process, churches need to try to put forward solutions that can be implemented," Sommerfeldt told ENI. "We need to have achievable goals."
[With acknowledgements to ENI. Ecumenical News International is jointly sponsored by the World Council of Churches, the Lutheran World Federation, the World Alliance of Reformed Churches, and the Conference of European Churches.]