Shell’s Board have made a decision not to reduce their carbon emission producing activities in line with what scientists tell us is necessary to prevent runaway climate change. Shell’s practices are destroying lives and livelihoods and wrecking the planet and the company continues not to take meaningful actions to redress this. They need to be held accountable. We asked a some of the Methodists who joined us at our protest at the Shell AGM why they were there, and how as Methodists they reflect on the decision of MCHW to host the AGM. Here are their responses:
Martha Rand, an engineering student who is the Assistant Chair of the Methodist Zero Carbon Group – “I wasn’t going to go to the vigil because of my upcoming exams but I decided to come because the destruction of our environment is much more important than one afternoon of revision. All the time Shell continue to dig up and sell fossil fuels they are stealing from my future and from the present of people in the global south. It is also appalling that the Methodist Church was hosting despite their recent divestment and 2030 net zero goal. The church is great at promoting eco issues and encouraging young activists yet they are hosting the companies whose actions they encourage us to campaign against! This needs to never happen again.”
Mark Pengelly, a Methodist minister and also a member of Methodist Zero Carbon Group, is on sabbatical currently exploring non-violent direct action as a response to matters of social justice. He said “The climate crisis, as with other issues in history, illustrates the fact that the status quo will be maintained until pressure for change becomes significant. In this instance the time for such change becomes increasingly urgent and pressure must be brought to bear on those who have vested interests in the continued production of fossil fuels. I’m dismayed that WCH didn’t want to make such a statement by not accommodating Shell, especially in light of the Methodist Church divesting from all fossil fuel firms last year. At some point things have to change and Methodism’s Central Hall could have used this as an opportunity to emphasise that.”
Rev Mark Harwood from the Sankey Valley Circuit, Liverpool District had some questions for those at Central Hall and the Connexion that agreed to host the AGM. He wanted to know “What weight, if any, was given to the serious reputational damage to the Methodist Church and to the undermining of many local churches in their attempts to respond to the Climate & Biodiversity crises by hosting the Shell AGM? Why is the Shell AGM on an ‘acceptable’ meeting list when the Methodist Conference has clearly indicated and acted to divest completely from Shell? How can receiving income from Shell for the hiring of the most high profile Methodist building be considered acceptable when by doing so it may not have been breaching any ‘Letter of the ‘Law’ but was driving a fossil-fueled coach and horses through the ‘Spirit’ of Conference decisions & Standing Orders?” He said he felt the decision was bringing the shame and hypocrisy of such actions upon everyone associated with the Methodist Church and added “I do not underestimate the considerable efforts being made by many individuals and organisations within Methodism to respond to the issues of Climate Justice, but it is for this very reason that the hosting the Shell AGM speaks far louder, in fact drowns out all the other attempts to be taken seriously in these.”
Karen Burridge who spent 24 hours in vigil outside Methodist Central Hall before the AGM said she did so because of her general concern about fossil fuels and the blatant denial of the science by an industry that relies on science throughout its operations. “When I learned the AGM was at MCHW I felt let down by the church and cheated that the decision by the Methodist Church to disinvest had not been directed out to every part of the Methodist Church. I understand the contractural obligation MCHW was under from 2019, but if the hierarchy of the Church had truly got their act together fossil fuel companies could have been added to the list of organisations banned from using Methodist premises, such as those involved in the arms trade and alcohol trade. There may have been more leverage to ask for Shell to move elsewhere. Methodist Conference needs to ensure that Fossil Fuel companies are added to that list as soon as possible.” She noted the fact that the AGM was on Wesley Day describing it as “painfully ironic.”
In contrast to these responses, an argument has been made that Shell would have held their AGM somewhere. Perhaps it is better that it is hosted by a faith institution. To that we would say that the decision to allow Shell to hold their AGM at Methodist Central Hall enables “church-washing” – it gives them a veneer of social and political acceptability that helps them obscure the profound harm they are wreaking on Creation and most especially our brothers and sisters in the global south.
The last word here goes to Mary Smail, a Methodist who was present at the action inside the AGM, whose answer resonates far beyond the context of the question. “We need to live in faith. We have to live out the Gospel in the world, even if that involves sacrifice and leaves us impoverished in the short term.”