Author Archives: Charity Manager

Good Money Week 2019

Statement from Selkirk Parish Church for Good Money Week 2019

Eco-Congregation Scotland supported the Good Money Week event organised by the Church of Scotland on Saturday 5th October 2019 and provided this statement as a divestment example for local churches to consider.

Selkirk Parish Church is a typical small town parish church, with around 400 members, and 60-70 regular attenders at Sunday services.  For a number of years, members of the congregation have become increasingly concerned about the damage being done to the environment and, in particular, the growing threat of runaway climate change.

The congregation registered as an eco-congregation back in 2013, and achieved its first eco-award in 2015.  Care for creation has become an integral part of the congregation’s life, impacting its spiritual life through worship and study groups, and showing itself in practical actions to reduce environmental impact, at both individual and congregational level.

In early 2018, a congregational 1/2 day conference was arranged by the eco-group, with most office bearers and many of the congregation in attendance.  The title of the conference was “Caring for Creation – asking the difficult questions”, and through presentations and interactive group activities, many issues were addressed.  These included considering the environmental impact of our financial decisions (what we buy, where we bank, and our investments). 

One outcome of this discussion was to consider whether the congregation’s investments were compatible with our environmental policy.  We ascertained that we had around £14K invested in the Church of Scotland’s Growth Fund, and became aware that this fund held investments on our behalf in three major oil and gas companies, Shell, BP and Total.  This was discussed by the Congregational Board and the Kirk Session, who resolved to withdraw the invested funds.

The following letter was sent to the Church of Scotland’s Investors Trust on 21st June 2018:

Dear Sirs,

In the light of our concerns about climate change driven by the continued burning of fossil fuels, most recently highlighted by Pope Francis in his meeting with oil executives, and the failure of the Church of Scotland’s policy of engagement to bring about significant change in the policies and practices of Shell, BP and Total over the last 2 years, Selkirk Parish Church has decided to withdraw its funds invested in the Church of Scotland Growth Fund.

As an eco-congregation, we do not believe it is ethically acceptable to invest in, and gain profit from, companies whose main aim is to continue to explore for, and to extract, fossil fuels.  For example, BP states on its website that its strategy is to “invest in more gas and oil, producing both with increasing efficiency”. In fact, we believe that these investments are contrary to the Investors Trust’s current policy not to invest in companies whose “activities … are felt to harm society more than they benefit it”.  The activities of Shell, BP and Total (and other similar companies) are driving the whole world towards dangerous and potentially uncontrollable climate change, already causing harm to people across many parts of the planet.

We disagree with the Church of Scotland’s policy to continue to “engage” with these companies as being impractical and ineffective.  Many large institutions, including cities, universities, some pension funds, the British Medical Association, the Church of Ireland and the United Reformed Church in Scotland have already agreed to fully divest from all fossil fuel exploration and extraction.  We believe that the Church of Scotland should be leading the way for others, and should fully divest now from all companies involved in fossil fuel exploration and extraction; this would give a stronger signal to these companies than any engagement is ever likely to do.

Within Selkirk Parish Church, we are committed to caring for God’s creation.  We can no longer wait for the Church or Scotland to act in this matter, so we are taking our own small steps to make ourselves “fossil free”.  Withdrawing our funds is one step in this journey that we are able to make now, and therefore we are doing so.  We hope that other congregations may follow our example.

The funds withdrawn may be either reinvested in an ethical fund or used to part-fund a children and families worker; we consider this to be a much better way to invest for growth in God’s Kingdom.

This was a small, but significant practical action that we could readily take. Other congregations may lack the confidence to take this step, and so it is important that we continue to campaign for total disinvestment by the Church of Scotland from all fossil fuel companies, and reinvestment into other areas that are compatible with the church’s care for creation.

Selkirk Parish Church still has other investments held by the Church of Scotland in its “consolidated fabric fund”, but we have no information about whether this fund includes fossil fuel investments. As we are not able to withdraw these funds, we hope that the 2020 General Assembly will resolve to divest completely from fossil fuels across all its investments.

David Bethune

Elder, Selkirk Parish Church

Evidence submitted to MSPs on new Climate Change Bill

THE SCOTTISH PARLIAMENT

ENVIRONMENT, CLIMATE CHANGE AND LAND REFORM COMMITTEE

Eco-Congregation Scotland (ECS) welcomes the opportunity to submit evidence to the committee on the Climate Change (Emissions Reduction Targets)(Scotland) Bill in advance of appearing on 6 November 2018.

Who are we?

Eco-Congregation Scotland is a Christian environmental organisation that helps local church congregations address environmental issues through their life and mission. There are over 430 eco-congregations in Scotland. 139 of them have the EcoCongregation Award for environmental excellence. 

Our programme has three strands:

• Spiritual living: Making the link between environmental issues and the Christian faith

• Practical living: Taking practical action in the church and in the home to reduce our environmental impact

• Global living: Influencing attitudes and taking action in the local or global community on issues like climate change

Encouragement and peer support is provided through 20 local networks across Scotland with two network co-ordinators promoting local activity. 

Action on climate change 

As a faith driven organisation we encourage congregations to consider in prayer and worship why care for creation is an essential part of Christian faith; and how they should respond to climate change.  Creation Time is a new fixture in the church calendar each September and has been widely taken up in Scotland as elsewhere in Europe as an opportunity to explore care for creation in worship.

Practical action to reduce carbon emissions in churches includes working with the Energy Saving Trust and its delivery partners to encourage churches to take advice on energy management in church buildings and in their own homes. Church buildings are notoriously difficult to heat and a project in Cowal churches in Argyll identified air source heat pumps as the most effective low carbon heating for remote churches off the gas grid.   The project recently won a Roman Juriga award from the European Christian Environment Network as a leading example of energy management in churches across Europe. 

ECS receives funding from the Scottish Government to promote awareness and behaviour change.  This has helped deliver a range of activities including carbon conversations with church groups around Scotland.  There are signs of significant behaviour change with minsters and other church members installing low carbon heating at home, driving electric cars and promoting community food and other low carbon projects. Many other churches have taken advantage of Climate Challenge Funds and other grants to promote low carbon projects in church buildings of benefit to the wider community. 

Activism includes encouragement to church members to get involved in campaigning activity with partners such as Christian Aid, SCIAF, TearFund, Stop Climate Chaos Scotland (SCCS) and others. It is noticeable that, at lobbies of parliament and other SCCS events, church members are prominently represented.

What motivates action?

One of the principal drivers of climate action in churches is the impact of stories from partner churches around the world.  Messages from church members in Tuvalu or Malawi or Bangladesh about the loss and damage consequent on climate change have a big impact on church audiences in Scotland, probably more so than scientific reports or statistics.  It is worth considering how such stories could be shared more widely across Scotland to increase awareness and promote behaviour change.

What next? 

That over 400 churches have registered with ECS is indicative of the commitment and concern in churches. In worship and advocacy many churches are actively engaged but there remains concern that members of congregations will struggle with behavioural decisions necessary to achieve the target of a zero carbon emissions Scotland by 2050, whether that is in changes to domestic heating, food, other shopping or travel.

One opportunity of increasing interest is in decarbonising finance.  We know that many church members have concerns about investment in fossil fuel companies but the debate is beginning to spread to the role of savings, investments and pensions. Promoting awareness, campaigning and action on fossil fuel finance is likely to be a priority for coming years. 

Commitment 

ECS and sponsoring denominations are committed to supporting the Scottish Parliament and Scottish Government make the rapid transition to a low carbon economy.  We have joined other SCCS members in calling for a net zero carbon emissions (100%) target in the Bill and offer our commitment to support the Scottish Government and others in helping bring about this outcome.

 

Oil companies urged to tackle climate change

 

Eco-Congregation Scotland has joined the Church of Scotland and Christian Aid Scotland in sending an open letter to the chairmen of three oil companies, asking them to align their business plans with the goals of the Paris Agreement.

As the Church of Scotland currently invests in BP, Shell and Total, the letter calls on action from each of those companies to keep global warming as far below 2°C as possible.

In October, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) warned that urgent changes are necessary to achieve climate targets and avoid the dangers of drought, extreme heat, floods and poverty for hundreds of millions of people.

Mary Sweetland, chair of Eco-Congregation Scotland said: "We need to drastically reduce our use of carbon fuels as the recent IPCC report shows. Big oil companies promised to clean up their act to meet the Paris commitments; now we need to know how quickly they are changing."

Rev Dr Richard Frazer, Convener of the Church of Scotland’s Church and Society Council stated: "Oil companies have a critical role in deciding whether or not global warming stays within targets set by the Paris Agreement of 2015. That agreement was to limit global warming to 1.5°C if possible and at most 2°C. I am now writing to ask them to tell us if they are committed to limit global warming and if so what are they going to do?"

Sally Foster-Fulton, Head of Christian Aid Scotland commented: "Right now, climate change is eroding life for the most vulnerable in our world and robbing our children of a future. Right now is the only time we have and time is running out. Christian Aid Scotland stands together with the Church of Scotland and Eco-Congregation Scotland in asking oil and gas companies to be leaders and solution-makers, moving intentionally and quickly to a fossil-free future."

Burning fossil fuels such as oil, gas and coal causes carbon dioxide to be released into the atmosphere, one of the principal causes of global warming. The Paris Agreement urges a transition toward low carbon energy sources.

Commissioners at the Church of Scotland’s 2018 General Assembly voiced serious concerns about climate change and instructed the Church and Society Council to open discussions with the oil companies and press them to align their business plans with the Paris Climate Agreement.

Read the joint open letter.

ECO CONGREGATION SCOTLAND WELCOMES STEPHEN CURRAN AS NEW MANAGER

Eco-Congregation Scotland is excited to announce the appointment of Stephen Curran as manager.

Stephen  brings a wealth of skills and experience with him  to this important post.   As a Glasgow City Councillor he has served as City Treasurer, and Executive Member for Education and Young People; and has been active in the Justice and Peace movement and a wide range of community organisations.

Mary Sweetland, Chairman of Trustees, welcoming Stephen to the team said:

We look forward to a step change in Churches taking action to mitigate the impact of climate chaos with the appointment of Stephen and our new Eco-Chaplain, Rev David Coleman, next month.

Stephen is joining ECS at a time of rapid growth, with the number of eco-congregations across Scotland now over 430 and growing.  He said:

With a longstanding interest in environmental issues and faith action, I am delighted to take on the charity manager role at Eco-Congregation Scotland, supporting churches to tackle climate justice and address more sustainable use of assets and resources.

I recognise the growing impact of individual congregations striving to live the Gospel today in addressing climate justice, linking environmental issues to faith in practice.

Encouraging and supporting this work is one of the great challenges of our time and I am honoured to be asked to manage Eco-Congregation Scotland to help achieve this.    

Stephen has been involved in church life across Scotland, supporting and encouraging a range of churches on social action. He has three children and has lived on Glasgow’s south side for twenty years where he attends St Helen’s parish.

 

Biographical details:

imageStephen has three decades of voluntary involvement in a range of charities, boards, committees and campaign groups. He developed a keen interest in environment and development issues at church and school in Ayr, where he started a Justice and Peace group, fundraising for charities working at home and overseas.  He studied law to postgraduate level at the University of Dundee, where he chaired the Catholic Society and participated in ecumenical chaplaincy activities including the Christian Union and One World Group.

He subsequently worked in healthcare, retail management and IT training before eight years as a parliamentary aide for an MP and MSP representing Scotland’s most ethnically diverse constituency, engaging with local churches and campaigners on sustainability and climate change.  He continued that interest through his role as an elected Councillor in Glasgow since 2003 – assuming senior roles on finance, service reform, health and social care integration, scrutiny of policing, education and community planning – bringing to the charity manager post significant experience in building partnerships.

Stephen served ten years as a Strathclyde Pension Fund trustee and successfully encouraged more focus on corporate, social and environmental responsibility in local government pension fund investments.  For the past nine years, he was also a board member of The Hidden Gardens Trust, a community development charity encouraging volunteering through a multi-cultural greenspace.

Since 2015 he has served three years in his most recent employment as Scotland and North of England operations manager with Community Money Advice, a Christian charity supporting 157 free debt advice centres run by churches, foodbanks and local groups.

Granton Goes Greener!

Congratulations to Eco-congregation Granton Parish Church who obtained a Climate Challenge Fund grant for a joint project with the local community under the banner “Granton Goes Greener”.  On a beautiful summer day – Saturday 30th June – the project was launched by local MP Deirdre Brock, with a guided walk, children’s activities, bike repair workshop, poetry readings, miniature garden workshop, clothes swap, and soup, cakes and coffee in the church.  Read more at http://grantongoesgreener.org.uk/2018/07/02/granton-goes-greener-has-now-officially-launched/

Gordon Hudson is leaving Eco-Congregation Scotland

After seven years as Manager of Eco-Congregation Scotland, Gordon Hudson is leaving to pursue new career opportunities. During his tenure as manager we have grown to 431 registered congregations, increased our income and become established as one of the leading environmental organisations in Scotland. We thank Gordon for his efforts over the past seven years and wish him well for the future.