Protestors disrupt General Synod with demand Church of England divests from fossil fuels

Seven Christians, including a retired vicar, interrupted proceedings at the Church of England’s General Synod on Friday 8th July, urging the Church to end its financial backing of the fossil fuel industry.

They called on all dioceses still investing in fossil fuels, plus the Church Commissioners and the Pensions Board, to commit to divest and to instead invest in clean energy, before UN climate summit COP27 in November.

Members of Christian Climate Action went to the front of the assembly holding a banner with the words: ‘Churches Divest Now’. Rev Sue Parfitt, 80 years old, attempted to give a two-minute talk on behalf of the group, but was prevented from doing so by security. A member of Synod, Rev Robert Thompson, not related to Christian Climate Action, took to the podium and requested that Rev Sue be able to speak to the room. He was instructed to stop talking by the Synod chair and the meeting was abruptly adjourned. Archbishop Justin Welby approached Rev Sue Parfitt while the meeting was adjourned and agreed to speak to the group when the session had come to a close.

Security guards prevented Rev Sue Parfitt from reaching the microphone to deliver her two-minute speech.

A few days before Synod Christain Climate Action wrote to all 468 members of Synod asking them to support a motion to approve the Church of England’s Routemap to Net Zero and to urge all sections of the Church of England to divest from fossil fuels.

Prior to the start of Synod, around 20 people gathered outside the Central Hall with fossil fuel divestment banners. They invited Synod members to write their hopes and fears about the climate emergency on paper leaves, which were then hung on a Hopes and Fears Tree.

When Synod ended for the day, Justin Welby left the hall. Members of Christian Climate Action waited outside of the building and met with both him and Archbishop of York, Stephen Cottrell.

The activists requested that the Church immediately announces its intention to divest from fossil fuel companies and that they complete divestment by November 2022 ahead of COP27 in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt. They also asked 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.

The campaigners are calling for the Church to divest, because, as an institution seen as a moral leader, its backing of the fossil fuel industry gives oil and gas corporations social licence and political influence, in the US and other countries.

It is estimated that the Church of England dioceses, Church Commissioners and Pensions Board currently hold investments worth around £55 million in fossil fuel companies. To date, just 12 out of 42 dioceses have announced a full divestment commitment.  18 dioceses do not hold investments and the protesters are urging them to announce their commitment not to invest in the future.

Those taking part in the protest gave the following reasons:

 Ruth Jarman, 59, from Hampshire, Charity Administrator who worships at her local C of E church in Hampshire:

‘Jesus says ‘where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.’ The Church of England has treasure that is destroying the future. What does that say about our heart? How can I not protest this corruption at the core of the church to which I belong?’

Ben Buse, 36 from Bristol, Research Associate and a member of the Church of England:

‘I feel the Church must be prophetic in managing its assets, its life and preaching, with addressing the climate and ecological crisis in a way that is real to our faith. We need to stand in solidarity with the suffering of the earth and people.’

Val King, 62 from Stirling, Business Advisor:

‘Fossil fuel companies are making excessive profits and are pressing on to open new oil and gas fields, in spite of clear warnings from the United Nations that there should be no new exploration. The Church has an opportunity to speak out on behalf of those experiencing fuel poverty and those already suffering and dying from climate change in the global south. This is impossible while they continue to profit from fossil fuel shares.’

Revd Sue Parfitt, 80 from Bristol, Retired Priest: 

‘How could I not take part?  I find it deeply shocking that many Dioceses in the Church of England, knowing all that they do as to the lethal effect of fossil fuels on all life on earth, are nevertheless prepared to gain financially through their continuing investment in the industry. The Church in all its forms needs to be taking a prophetic stand and call on the Government to end all new exploration.  How can it do this when it continues to benefit in such a direct and obvious way?’

Karen Grattage, mum of a toddler and Churchwarden, Bath and Well Diocese:

‘I’m really worried about the future for my child and other people’s children. I think people don’t realise churches are still investing in companies that are destroying the planet and I want things to change before it’s too late.”

The Case for Immediate Divestment from fossil fuels

Fossil fuels have become a burning topic for everyone in the UK following the invasion of Ukraine and the cost-of-living crisis. In May companies such as Shell and BP, in which the Church of England still has shares, announced their highest ever profits, while poor and low-income households are having to decide whether to ‘heat or eat’. The people of Ukraine, facing extreme poverty and suffering are relying on sanctions from the West, while Shell, who admitted to buying Russian crude after the invasion, have been accused of using accounting malpractices as they continue to buy Russian oil. It is clear that fossil fuels companies are driven by profits and not by morals.

The Climate Emergency

Fatih Birol, the International Energy Agency’s executive director and one of the world’s foremost energy economists, said: ‘If governments are serious about the climate crisis, there can be no new investments in oil, gas and coal, from now – from this year.4.  That was in May 2021.  A year later, fossil fuel companies are spending over £100 million per day on exploring for new oil.5.

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.

Those taking part in the action 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.  Professor Sir David King, Former Chief Scientific Advisor puts the urgency of our situation on this planet very clearly: ‘We have 4-5 years to put in place everything to manage civilisation for the next millennium’.

One thought on “Protestors disrupt General Synod with demand Church of England divests from fossil fuels

  1. Mark Parsons says:

    Recently the Rev Justin Welby apologised for the churches involvement in the slave trade. Well, here again the church is on the wrong side of this moral dilemma. Do we have to wait for another Archbishop to apologise for its role in destroying the habitability of our one God given planet. The implications of slavery were by any measure appalling, but this failure will have greater implications on all of mankind. The moral leadership here is a disgrace!


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