Christians arrested over demand the Church of England divests from fossil fuels

13 Christians, including two members of the clergy, were arrested at St Paul’s Cathedral on Sunday 29th August, after staging a protest to ask the Church of England to divest from fossil fuels during 2021 to help tackle the climate crisis. Immediately after Communion at a Eucharist service they processed to the altar and faced the congregation holding banners with the words: ‘No Faith in Fossil Fuels’ and ‘Churches Divest Now’. At the same time, around 50 people gathered outside the Cathedral with banners showing the same messages. The action was livestreamed on social media:

The activists are demanding that the Church immediately announces its intention to divest from fossil fuel companies and that they complete divestment by 31st December 2021. They are also asking the Church to urgently speak out for immediate action to prevent irreversible climate impacts and ensure a liveable planet for all of God’s creation.

It is estimated that the Church of England dioceses, Church Commissioners and Pensions Board currently hold investments worth c. £70 million in fossil fuel companies. To date, just three out of 42 dioceses have announced divestment.

Clergy amongst the arrested

Two members of clergy were amongst those arrested.  Rev’d Canon Jonathan Herbert, speaking ahead of the protest, said: ‘The Church Commissioners and Pension Board rightly don’t invest in companies producing arms or tobacco, but surely investing in fossil fuels, with what we now know, is almost as deadly. It’s time for the Church Commissioners to take a lead and divest from death-dealing fossil fuels.’

Rev’d Tim Hewes, 71, said: ‘The Pensions Board and the Church Commissioners, by investing in fossil fuels, mistakenly believe that they can steer these all-powerful companies towards climate friendly policies. After years of engagement we know it’s not working. These companies are deaf to the entreaties of the church. We need to divest.’ 

The 13 received communion before moving into the space between the Celebrants and the congregation. This action was one of a number taking place in London over the last week to demand serious action from government and organisations to tackle the climate crisis.

Speaking in a video a couple of days after the action, Val King, 61, said: ‘We want the Church of England to divest from fossil fuels. The UK is hosting COP26 in Glasgow and we need them to announce to the world that there is no future in fossil fuels.’

The action attracted a lot of support on social media:

It was also the top news story in the Church Times.

This is urgent!

Since 2013 most major Christian denominations have made a commitment to divest from fossil fuels including the Quakers, Church of Ireland, United Reformed Churches, Methodist Church. Church of Scotland. Church in Wales and the Baptist Union. The Church of England, the Scottish Episcopal Church and the Catholic Church are the only major denominations still investing in fossil fuels. Worldwide, more than 400 religious organisations have made divestment commitments in recent years.

The action comes just three weeks after a new report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change said: ‘that unless there are immediate, paid and large-scale reductions in greenhouse gas emissions, limiting warming to close to 1.5°C or even 2°C will be beyond reach.’

In November, world leaders will meet in Glasgow at the COP26 conference to discuss the climate crisis. Those involved in the action at St Paul’s Cathedral believe this is our last, best chance to tackle the climate crisis and that the Church needs to lead by example in the lead up to this historic meeting.

Earlier this year the International Energy Agency said that investment in new fossil fuel production must end in 2021 if the global energy sector is to reach net zero emissions by 2050.

Last year Tearfund published research which shows that nine of ten young Christians are concerned about the climate crisis but only one in ten think their church is doing enough about it.

Those taking part in the action at St Pauls acknowledged that the Church Commissioners have agreed to begin divesting from fossil fuel companies not aligned with the Paris Agreement in 2023. However, they contend that companies like Shell are still committed to future fossil fuel exploration and that there are very few signs that they will align themselves with the Paris Agreement. As the recent IPCC report states very starkly – humanity is running out of time!

All those arrested have since been released from police custody under investigation.

Shortly after the action Sue Hampton, one of those arrested, wrote this beautiful poem.

Ahead of the action many of those taking part explained why in writing and on video.

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