3,500 UK churches to ditch fossil fuel electricity
More than 3,500 UK churches have either switched their electricity from fossil fuels to renewables or registered to do so, according to figures released by UK charities today.
The announcement coincides with day named by Pope Francis as the World Day of Prayer for the Care of Creation, September 1. It is the beginning of the Season of Creation, a global Christian ecumenical time of prayer and work for the protection of the environment.
Around 2,000 of the churches switching come from sixteen Catholic dioceses which are running entirely on renewable energy, some of whom made the decision following Pope Francis’ encyclical for the environment, Laudato Si’. The number also includes the majority of the Salvation Army’s UK sites and a third of Britain’s Quaker Meeting Houses.
In addition, nearly 700 churches from across denominations have so far individually signed up through the bigchurchswitch.org.uk website promoted by the charities Christian Aid and Tearfund.
Professor Stephen Pickard, Anglican Bishop and Director of the Australian Centre for Christianity and Culture in Canberra, said it well: ‘The massive take-up of clean, renewable energy by churches in the UK is a great sign of hope. It would be inspiring if Australian churches could do the same. We have an abundance of sun and wind and we are well aware of the damage done by the burning of fossil fuels. What are we waiting for?’
There are no similar large scale shifts to clean energy planned by churches in Australia, but churches have taken the lead on environmental action in other ways. The take-up of rooftop solar has accelerated in the last few years. Dozens of Christian organisations have passed resolutions to divest their holdings in fossil fuel extraction, and a sizable proportion of the tens of thousands at the People’s Climate Marches in late 2015 were people from faith communities.
Bishop John Arnold of Salford, one of the sixteen dioceses to have switched, and chairman of Catholic aid agency CAFOD, said: “There are many ways in which we may respond to the threat and the reality of climate change and adopting renewable energy for our church buildings must be a priority. Pope Francis challenges us all to ‘care for our common home’, and by adopting renewable energy we will directly help people threatened, and already most severely affected, by climate change.”
Tearfund Advocacy Director Paul Cook, said: “The Christian community has come together to help lead the shift to clean energy – we’re showing that we care for our neighbours, we care for creation, and we care that the government takes urgent action too. The longer we postpone, the worse it will be for our future and the future of people living in poverty around the world.”
Christian Aid Chief Executive Loretta Minghella also welcomed the news. She said: “We need a big shift to renewable energy and a shared commitment to leave the vast majority of fossil fuel reserves in the ground. This action by thousands of churches shows a groundswell of public support for renewables to which governments must respond by doing all they can to shift to a clean energy future.”
Some 340 congregations in the UK have also signed up to a broader scheme ‘Eco-Church’, committing to a range of environmental improvements. Similarly, 21 Catholic parishes have received a ‘Live Simply’ award, in recognition of commitments to sustainability and solidarity with people in poverty.
Dr Ruth Valerio, founder of the Eco-Church programme, said: “I sense that a corner has been turned with churches engaging in caring for the earth. The Bible is so clear that God loves the whole creation, both human and non-human, and that we are to love similarly, and so it is really encouraging to see us getting to grips with what that means and taking practical action”.