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BBC departs in peace after climate protesters disrupt Chichester evensong

30 November 2023


Protesters in Chichester Cathedral during choral evensong on Wednesday

Protesters in Chichester Cathedral during choral evensong on Wednesday

PROTESTERS interrupted a live BBC Radio 3 broadcast of choral evensong from Chichester Cathedral on Wednesday, condemning the diocese’s investment in fossil fuels.

Members of Christian Climate Action were joined by other campaigners and stood up in the service, holding signs reading “Chichester Diocese funds climate chaos”.

Mary Smail, a member of the group, interrupted the service and could be heard clearly over the airwaves, stating: Chichester Diocese is supporting the greenwashing of Total, Shell, and BP, and is therefore complicit in the suffering of millions of people in the global South and the breakdown of the Earth’s life support system.”

She continued: “Eleven days ago, the Chichester diocesan synod voted to retain the diocesan investment in fossil fuels, despite the Church of England’s national investment body having decided to divest, because ‘engagement had failed’. It is therefore astonishing that Chichester has chosen this path, described by the UN secretary-general as ‘a highway to climate Hell’.”

A BBC announcer in the studio then said: “We are leaving this live broadcast of choral evensong at this point.”

In the cathedral, Ms Smail continued, criticising the diocese’s “wanton irresponsibility”, and calling for the decision to be reversed. Chichester is one of only three diocese to have retained its fossil-fuel investments, along with Peterborough and Nottingham & Southwell.

The Revd Hilary Bond, another of the protesters, said: “As Christians, we follow a God who is all about justice, especially for the poor. Many of the poorer parts of the world are already enduring great suffering because of the effects of climate change, brought about by the continued use of fossil fuels by the richer parts of the world.

“In continuing to invest in fossil fuels, the diocese of Chichester are ignoring the cry of the poor when they could so easily invest more ethically and be part of bringing climate justice to the whole of God’s world.”

A spokesperson for the diocese of Chichester said on Thursday: “We share the concern of the protesters. The recent diocesan synod reaffirmed that care for God’s creation is foundational to the Christian gospel, and central to the Church’s mission. 

“Synod also engaged with the many complexities this contentious issue raises, which are often overlooked. We recognised that it is possible for people to hold different views on the best way to achieve the shared goal of freedom from fossil fuels.

“We remain committed to working towards a future which does not depend on fossil fuels. We acknowledge that achieving freedom from fossil fuels depends on the urgent need to develop alternative energy supplies and reduce the demand for energy. 

“The synod also debated the central role that large energy companies have to play in developing alternative energy supplies. We agreed by a significant majority to continue to invest in Shell and BP only while those companies have a clear strategy aligned with the Paris Agreement goal.

“In a separate motion, synod endorsed a diocesan net-zero-carbon action plan as a positive direction of travel.”

A statement from Chichester Cathedral expressed thanks to those who had been in contact to offer support, and said: “We would like to clarify that this Cathedral is an independent charity that holds no investment in companies whose main business is the extraction of oil, gas or coal. In fact, one of the reasons our fund manager was selected was for their positioning on climate change and social justice.”

The statement expressed disappointment that the service, for which the choir had been rehearsing for weeks, had been disrupted. “We would however like to acknowledge the importance of the message behind the protest — safeguarding God’s creation. It is an ambition that we share, and one we are actually working towards.”  


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