CHRISTIANS staged protests at Cathedrals across England and Wales on Sunday 5 March, highlighting and opposing investments in fossil fuels held by sections of the Church of England and the Catholic Church. 

At Southwark Cathedral, Judith Russenberger shaved off her hair during a Eucharist service as an act of repentance for the role both individuals and the church are playing in fuelling the climate emergency. At Southwell Minster in Nottinghamshire, Mary Smail wore sackcloth and had her forehead marked with an ash cross at the end of a Eucharist service..

Those attending were demanding that both The Church of England and the Catholic Church divest from fossil fuels as quickly as possible, commit to not reinvesting in fossil fuels in the future, and instead put their money into investments which will promote a sustainable future such as renewable technologies.

Members of Christian Climate Action  visited 12 Cathedrals and Minsters, and in the lead up to the protest they also visited a number of Cathedrals representing dioceses which have already divested from fossil fuels, to thank them.

In the last five years, most major denominations in the UK, including the Methodist Church and the United Reformed Church, have divested, or committed to divest, from fossil fuel companies because these companies are fuelling the climate emergency.

In addition, 18 Church of England dioceses have made a divestment commitment. However, seven dioceses are still investing and a further 17 have divested for financial reasons, but have failed to commit to not reinvesting in the future. In addition, The Church Commissioners and the Church of England Pension Board still hold investments in fossil fuels.

Every Catholic diocese in Scotland has divested. In addition, 10 Catholic dioceses in England have made a divestment commitment. However, 10 English Catholic dioceses are still investing in fossil fuels and two have divested but have not publicly committed to not reinvest in the future.

Caroline Harmon, a self-employed trainer, who attended Southwell Minster, said: “It’s fantastic that so many dioceses within the Church of England have made divestment commitments and we applaud them for the efforts and for all the hard work that is going into working towards Net Zero by 2030. However, it’s not acceptable that any part of the Church still has investments in fossil fuels. The Church is giving legitimacy to companies who are fuelling the climate emergency by expanding the extraction of fossil fuels. This needs to stop.”

Karin Weetman, who worships at St Charles Tudhoe, was present at the action at St Mary’s Cathedral Newcastle and said: “It is important to acknowledge that many Catholic dioceses have already ended their investment in fossil fuels, but to secure the necessary rapid transition to green and sustainable energy sources, every diocese must make clear that the fossil fuel era is ended by saying publicly that it commits to not reinvesting.’

Martin Jarvis, who was present at Southwark Cathedral, said: “I want to highlight the immorality of staying with fossil fuel investments, as we now know there is no evidence that engagement with these companies has had any effect whatsoever. The fossil fuel companies are brazenly ploughing ahead with ecocidal behaviour.”

Paul Russenberger, husband of Judith, read out a statement while her hair was being shaved. This included: “Today Christian Climate Action is calling upon Southwark diocese to rid itself of all investments that finance the fossil fuel industry and its destructive activities, and instead to make investments which will safeguard the environment and benefit our neighbours.’

Dave Mitchell, an IT worker who worships at a city centre church in Bristol and was present at Clifton Cathedral, said: “I find it appalling that the church, which seeks to love and care for the world that has been created, and should be standing up for justice and compassion, holds investments in gas and oil companies. These companies are gradually destroying our planet through the emission of greenhouse gases, causing untold suffering right now in countries in the Global south, and seriously affecting the lives of future generations.”

Susan Ward, a grandmother to four children between five and 11 months, who was present at Liverpool Metropolitan Cathedral said: “I wake each morning to the dread of what my beautiful grandchildren will have to deal with. I have joined Christian Climate Action as a Catholic. My fellow non-catholic Christians envy the leadership we have in the Pope regarding our Common Home. It’s incredible that 13 dioceses in England and Wales are still putting money into these industries.”

In May 2021 the International Energy Agency announced that exploration for new sources of fossil fuels needed to end that year, if we want to meet the global goal of net zero emissions by 2050. All major oil companies are continuing to explore for and develop new fossil fuel reserves.

The protest comes ahead of The Big One – a protest happening in Westminster from the 21 to the 24 April 2023, to demand a fair society and a citizen-led end to the fossil fuel era. Christian Climate Action is inviting everyone to The Big One protest.

* More information on The Big One here.

* Source: Christian Climate Action