Access To Land

Engaging with religious land owners: a budding partnership opportunity

A case study by Terre de Liens in Alsace region/France

Many churches across Europe are landholders and real estate owners. Over an 8-month period in 2021, Terre de Liens Alsace explored how to accompany and advise religious communities with agricultural properties.

This unique project was made possible through collaboration with Sarah Foxx – a protestant theologian by training – within the framework of her Master’s program to become an ecological advisor.

Her work was guided by the singular question of how mindful stewardship of religious land could be an accelerator of the agroecological transition. Preliminary research revealed the astounding fact that the Catholic church is known to be one of the largest landowners in the world. Locally in Alsace, Terre de Liens was able to identify numerous communities (monasteries and convents) with large undivided agricultural properties.

The timing of this project also seemed appropriate in light of the growing concern for the ecological crisis among French religious communities. More and more churches and parishes are wanting to play their part in the ecological transition, assisted by a newly developed tool called the « Green Church label », inspired by the Eco Church movement in the UK. Alongside this tool, Catholic communities have been particularly motivated to find practical applications for the Pope Francis’ Encyclical Laudato Si, released in 2015.

Sharing the same vision of land as a common good, Terre de Liens is uniquely positioned to partner with these institutions to ensure fair access to land and sustainable farming practices. At this time, a large number of these communities are struggling as the older generation begins to retire without a clear future for their agricultural properties. This challenge places the Church at the crossroads with important decisions to make: to sell their land to the highest bidder or to imagine new uses in line with their values.

After a few dozen interviews, a helpful classification system was created to put words to the challenges and opportunities that different communities were facing.

  • The “lighthouses”: These communities are exemplary in their land management. They are inspirational for other communities and are able to provide guidance on how to move forward.
  • The communities” in transition”: They are beginning or currently in the process of enacting steps towards mindful land management. Coming alongside these communities can be strategic as they are looking for practical ideas and applications for their new vision.
  • The “embers”: These communities hang in the balance with either a lack of will or consensus to make changes. These communities can die off or be revived by an inspiring proposal.

This project helped start these key conversations both within Terre de Liens itself and with several local religious communities. In fact, the success of this project is largely due to a dynamic work group equally composed of Terre de Liens representatives and members of the clergy. Going forward, a variety of tools was created to equip Terre de Liens to engage with these atypical land-owners while building trust in the process. A final conclusion of this work underlined that these challenges and opportunities are not only found in France but also across Europe.

Terre de Liens Alsace remains available for those interested in this project and continues to explore practical applications for this work with the goal of multiplying agroecological farms echoing its vision of “responsible land management”.

Contact : Marie Balthazard, coordinator for Terre de Liens Alsace 
m.balthazard [at] terredeliens [dot] org / +33 6 72 90 95 88


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