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‘We must change radically or face climate catastrophe’: Christians join climate demo

07 October 2019

Cleric among those arrested in Extinction Rebellion protests


Faith Bridge protesters walk across Westminster Bridge on Monday  

Faith Bridge protesters walk across Westminster Bridge on Monday  

CLERICS — including an Anglican friar — were among Christians who took part in an impromptu prayer vigil on Lambeth Bridge in London on Monday morning — part of the Extinction Rebellion climate protests, which brought Westminster to a standstill.

In the shadows of Lambeth Palace on the south side of the River Thames, prayers were said, hymns sung, and leaders of Christian Aid, Tearfund, and CAFOD told stories from the parts of the world most damaged by climate change.

The protest was part of a series of blockades around Westminster, during which people sat in the road along Whitehall, Westminster Bridge, and Trafalgar Square, among other places. By the end of Monday, the Metropolitan Police reported that 319 arrests had been made. Christian Climate Action said on Monday that 13 of its members had been arrested.

PAPolice remove a protester from Lambeth Bridge. It was cleared by Monday night

Lambeth Bridge was among the sites to cleared of protesters overnight on Monday. On Tuesday, Christian Climate Action moved to what it described as a “new Faith Bridge site” at Trafalgar Square.

Brother Hugh SSF, of Hilfield Friary, Dorset, led the crowd on Lambeth Bridge in liturgical prayers on Monday. He said afterwards: “I hope what we’re doing here today is not just preaching to the Government and the general public, but also to the Church. I’m not asking them all to come here. But I hope they sign up for the Eco Church scheme run by Arocha, they can divest any funds they have in fossil fuels, and they can get the climate message across in church.

“We need to incorporate the climate into our worship, just as much as we’ve incorporated the poor over the last few decades.”

He continued: “At Hillfield, we live sustainably ourselves, but the climate challenge is so serious that there has to be political involvement as well, which is why we’ve come here.”

The protesters are unhappy with the pace of Government action to tackle climate change after a series of stark reports in recent months from the United Nations expert science panel, which has warned of devastating impacts on the earth’s land and oceans if emissions are not cut rapidly.

The Revd Jon Swales is Mission Priest at the Church of England’s Lighthouse Church, Leeds, and an associate faculty member of St Hild Theological Centre.

He said: “The science is clear. Unless we radically change the way we live in the world, we will face the full force of climate catastrophe. I want to play my part in raising the alarm for the sake of the world’s most vulnerable and the next generation, and also contribute to a renewed imagination of future possibilities.”

The chief executive of Christian Aid, Amanda Mukwashi, spoke to the crowd about women she had met in Ethiopia and Malawi who had lost crops and livelihoods owing to climate change. “I believe in a God of justice, of peace, and of solidarity,” she said. “I pray we find courage, strength, and humility. Let the history books show that we were the generation that stopped this planet from heading towards extinction.”

Dr Ruth Valerio, Global Influencing and Advocacy Director at Tearfund, said: “The climate emergency is the biggest global issue of our time, and it’s only right that people from all faiths stand together in solidarity and fight for justice. There are more droughts, more floods, and less reliable rain, which makes it harder for people in poverty to feed themselves.”

HELENA SMITH/XRTamsin Omond (left) and their partner Melissa after their wedding ceremony on Westminster Bridge on Monday  

The Bishop of Salisbury, the Rt Revd Nick Holtam, who is the Church’s lead bishop on environmental affairs, said on Monday morning: “We are facing an unprecedented global climate crisis. Christians have the duty to care for God’s creation. This runs through everything we believe. Climate change is upon us, and most affects the world’s poorest. Peaceful, passionate protest is a democratic response at a time when business as usual will not do.”

On Thursday, Phil Kingston, a retired parole officer and member of Christian Climate Action, took part in an Extinction Rebellion protest in which a fire engine was used to spray fake blood outside the Treasury. This was intended to highlight how the UK Government is directly funding fossil-fuel expansion around the world.

He said: “I fight with all my being for my four grandchildren in this situation of existential danger. And I am a Christian who cares for the earth as God’s creation; and for the world’s poorest peoples whose experience of injustice draws a special love from God.”

Amid the protests that took place on Westminster Bridge on Monday was “A commitment to love” service between two members of XR who symbolically tied the knot surrounded by fellow activists with prayers said by their close friend, Canon Jessica Martin, a Residentiary Canon of Ely Cathedral.

As Westminster Bridge was not licensed for a wedding, Canon Martin said that she and the couple had created a carefully planned liturgy: “They were aware that this was not a wedding, but they wanted to affirm a commitment to love, and to do that within the wider context of a commitment to love the earth. It was very beautiful, and I was really glad to be there.”

JOE WAREHolly-Anna Petersen, a member of Christian Climate Action, is baptised in Trafalgar Square  

In Trafalgar Square, a dozen people reaffirmed their baptismal vows, using a paddling pool filled with water.

By Wednesday, more than 600 people had been arrested. Among them was the Revd Mark Coleman, Vicar of St Chad’s and St Mary’s, Rochdale. He said: “I hope and pray that my arrest, along with that of over 270 others that day alone, may help make the climate emergency a priority for politicians, so that my children and my parishioners in Rochdale may have a chance of life in all its fullness.”

While protests were taking place in London, in a video message to the Ethical Finance 2019 summit in Edinburgh, the Archbishop of Canterbury said: “It is in investors’ power to help avert the disastrous consequences — ethical and financial — of failing to achieve the Paris goals [to halt climate change].

“Passive investment, with decisions controlled and influenced by the algorithms and index calculations, may be the right investment solution for many, but passive stewardship is the answer for no one. All investors can make a difference by engaging and voting determinedly in support of the Paris Agreement.”

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