‘The sun was coming up, the birds were singing and these wonderful, vibrant young people were getting on top of oil tankers. The police asked if we were having a wine and cheese party! So Sue corrected them.’
Rev Jonathan Herbert was in fact, celebrating communion in front of an oil tanker, along with three other Christian climate protesters, during a Just Stop Oil protest on Sunday 3rd April.
Rev Sue Parfitt’s explanation for why they did this is very simple: ‘It was Sunday.’ Pressed for more information she continues: ‘We couldn’t go to church so we took church to the oil tankers.’
Jonathan and Sue were joined by Ruth Jarman and Steve Jarvis. All four are Christians taking part in Just Stop Oil protests. Hundreds of protestors have, so far, blocked more than 10 major oil facilities across the UK. They intend to keep doing so until the UK government agrees to end all fossil fuel investments immediately.
On Sunday the four took a table cloth, a wine glass, some ‘proper red wine and some nice bread’ to their protest. Once at the site they set these things up on top of a bright orange ‘Just Stop Oil’ banner.
‘It was really powerful,’ says Ruth. ‘We were right in front of this oil tanker. It was dirty and dusty. It would have just filled up, so it was full of oil that is destroying the earth. And there we were. We were trying to break the journey of this tanker taking all this oil to be burnt, to add to climate breakdown.’
Jonathan takes up the story: ‘You could almost call the tanker an instrument of death. We know that oil is destroying the planet. We’re all complicit in climate breakdown, we’re destroying our beautiful world, so, as with any communion service we began with a confession.
‘Then we listened to readings. The gospel reading was about the woman in Bethany who undertook an act of courage and great generosity (in pouring expensive oil on Jesus’ feet). She was going against “business as usual”. For us, now, that’s the idea that we’ve got to keep things going as they are by burning fossil fuels. Whereas her act was about generosity and risk. In a small way we were taking a risk too.’
The service then continued with some litany. They didn’t have any written litany, Sue explains, ‘so we made some up. We thought of statements that we could follow with “we will not comply”. For example, ‘With the fossil fuel industry… we will not comply’. Having made our own confession at the beginning of the service we were able to stay we were standing against the evil of the fossil fuel industry. We wanted to make an opportunity for God to be fully present in that place at that moment. That’s why we consecrated the bread and wine in front of the oil tanker.’
The police allowed them to finish the service which ended with singing ‘When I survey the wondrous cross.’
A number of Just Stop Oil protestors were standing on a nearby grass verge watching (the police wouldn’t let them join Sue, Jonathan and Ruth). A fourth Christian, Steve Jarvis, was going to be the Deacon for the service to make it truly ecumenical, but he was stopped from getting onto the road by police.
All four were subsequently arrested and bailed not to go to Essex.