The Revd Dr Cate Williams blogs about attending Christian Climate Action’s London demonstration, a peaceful and lawful climate protest which took place on Friday 21 April 2023.
“The Big One was a hope-filled space.
“It seems to me that protests can sometimes tip over into being rooted in anger and fear. I wonder whether that is why some end in quite extreme places, out of the feeling that nothing else will make a difference.
“‘The Big One’ though felt like a very positive space, rooted more in love and hope, as is good and right. We need to campaign as there is no question that we need Westminster to pay attention and make robust policies that take the climate and nature crises seriously. To do so rooted in love and hope, with a feeling of positivity throughout, was fabulous.
“I was there to join the group from Christian Climate Action (CCA). We gathered at St John’s, Waterloo for a service at 12 noon, then walked together to Westminster to join the very many other groups, with the whole coordinated by Extinction Rebellion.
“The service itself overflowed into the garden as we were too many to fit in the church. CCA later reported that 1400 of us were present. We were welcomed to the church by Canon Giles Goddard, the vicar, then with Tear Fund Director, Ruth Valerio taking the overall lead, all ages were involved, praying together, and singing new and old songs of worship, including new words ‘God, the maker of the heavens, to the familiar tune of ‘What a Friend we have in Jesus.’ Songs and lyrics are here for any churches that would like to use them locally.
“Archbishop John Sentamu spoke passionately, offering an international perspective. He named the climate crisis “an offense against humanity”, emphasising that we need to leave fossil fuels in the ground. He spoke about how the Church has a proud history of standing up for justice, therefore we stand very much within our faith and tradition as we do so in this current crisis.
“We then left for our Pilgrimage to Westminster, led by a Salvation Army band playing hymns. Several Bishops headed up our walk alongside Ruth Valerio: Bishop Olivia Graham (Reading/Oxford); Lord John Sentamu (Christian Aid Chair); Laurie Green (Former Bishop of Bradwell/Chelmsford); Bishop Martin Gainsborough (Kingston/Southwark); Bishop Steven Croft (Oxford) and Bishop Anne Hollinghurst (Aston/Birmingham). Interview links with them on YouTube are included at the end of this post.
“We stopped off at Shell HQ en route. The plan here had been to read out and then deliver a letter, sing Amazing Grace, and then move on. Sadly, despite prior information about our peaceful plans, to allay any potential concerns, the office refused to receive the letter. Archbishop John Sentamu, who had been commissioned with the delivery, instead left it tucked under the revolving doors at the entrance.
“As we arrived in Westminster, we found ourselves joining an amazingly positive festival of protest, with singing, drumming, costumes, and drama. When the CCA group dispersed at around 2.30pm, I went exploring.
“I passed a number of other groups, some doctors and nurses wearing scrubs and their job titles; an animal welfare group; a group standing against the proposed expansion of Gatwick Airport; Extinction Rebellion Buddhists; lawyers some wearing wigs to signify their profession; the ‘red rebels’ a dramatic group wearing red from head to toe; another similar group wearing green; and many more. As I walked past Westminster, a group was organising a discussion about how the various different streams and special interests could best work together. Anyone could join in, as they were organised into small groups of six. Others were making banners, playing drums or guitars, and chatting in groups. Processions organised by the various groups passed through the crowds from time to time.
“I had started the day praying with the story of the feeding of the 5,000, through the ‘Pray As You Go’ app. We were asked to reflect on where we would be in the crowd. Knowing I was heading into crowds in London, I found myself reflecting on my preference for less busy spaces, and wondering how I would have been in a crowd of 5,000, and how that would work out in London. The edge of the crowd perhaps, befriending a tree or a bee? As it turned out, this crowd was, as was the crowd gathered around Jesus, a good place to be. I’m glad I went.
“I find myself reflecting now on what difference it makes. One protest doesn’t change Westminster’s policies, sadly. I do think however that it all adds up as we raise awareness of the issues, let politicians know how many of us are concerned, and bring this to God in prayer.
“In our democratic system, it is only when politicians realise how many are concerned and that green policies will win them elections that policy change will happen.
“We need to make our views known. This is not the only way to do so, we can also lobby our MPs locally. But this is a powerful and important way to make our voices heard together. We also slowly and quietly chip away at change in our churches and communities, via our commitment to the EcoChurch award scheme and our diocesan and national CofE 2030 carbon net zero goals. We all do what we can as we work and pray together for change.”
Watch the events of the day
A recording of the whole day has been uploaded to YouTube including interviews with some of the bishops who were present:
- Bishop of Kingston (Southwark), Martin Gainsborough 4:39:00
- Bishop of Reading (Oxford) Olivia Graham at 2:25:00
- Bishop of Aston (Birmingham), Anne Hollinghurst at 4:18:00
- Former Bishop of Bradwell (Chelmsford), Laurie Green at 4:29:00
The same YouTube video also covers our time outside Shell HQ, including Lord John Sentamu’s attempt to deliver the letter. You can find this coverage at 2:12:00.