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Published on 27 February 2024
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Church leaders hold a banner reading Vigil for Climate Justice outside UK Parliament Credit: Amy
Church leaders hold a banner reading Vigil for Climate Justice outside UK Parliament

240 Hours of prayer and protest

As Ash Wednesday dawned, hundreds of Christians across the UK prepared to cover 240 hours of prayer and protest for climate justice outside UK Parliament.

The No Faith in Fossil Fuels: Lent Vigil for Climate Justice, was an invitation to bear witness to the impacts of the climate crisis and to call on the UK Government for bold climate action.

A collaboration of Christian Aid, Christian Climate Action, Student Christian Movement and more, the vigil brought together Christians from across the ecumenical spectrum to demand that the UK Government

  • Make the UK’s biggest polluters pay for climate action.
  • Pay into the United Nation’s Loss & Damage Fund.    
  • Ban new UK-based fossil fuel projects. 

Together we declared we have No Faith in Fossil Fuels!

Lament, longing, love

St John’s church, Waterloo, was a bustle of those ready to stand vigil, as the Salvation Army Band drew the gathering into worship. The opening service journeyed through lament for what has been lost and action neglected, longing for the world we want to see and love for people and planet.

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A row of women sing in worship at St Johns Church Waterloo at the Climate Vigil Service Credit: Amy Sheppy/Christian Aid
A row of women sing in worship at St Johns Church Waterloo at the Climate Vigil Service
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Bishop Mike Royal addresses St Johns Waterloo at Climate Vigil starts Credit: Amy Sheppy/Christian Aid
Bishop Mike Royal addresses St Johns Waterloo at Climate Vigil starts

Bishop Mike Royal, General Secretary of Churches Together in England, spoke of his lament for the injustice of the climate crisis around the world. 

“I lament that the continent of Africa accounts for less than three percent of global carbon dioxide emissions, yet is often hardest hit by climate change. I lament that punitive international debt has hampered incredible energy innovation taking place across Africa. We have to do better. This is a climate justice issue. This is a racial justice issue.

Lord have mercy, Christ have mercy, stir the hearts of the church to action to work for a more sustainable future.

Amen"

From dust to dust

Following the service people took part in the tradition of 'ashing', a cross of ashes marked on the forehead. The ancient words ‘you are from dust, and to dust you shall return’ were uttered to each person. A poignant reminder of our connectedness to creation. 

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Rev Helen Burnett puts ashes on the forehead of a woman taking part in the climate vigil Credit: Cafod
Rev Helen Burnett puts ashes on the forehead of a woman taking part in the climate vigil
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People gather at Parliament Square opposite Big Ben to start the climate vigil Credit: Cafod
People gather at Parliament Square opposite Big Ben to start the climate vigil

Gathering at Parliament Square, prayer and worship continued before the Bishop of Kingston, Martin Gainsborough and Methodist Vice President, Kerry Scarlett blessed the vigil site ahead of 10 days of prayer, worship and conversation outside the UK’s biggest seat of power.

Night and day, rain or shine

During 10 days and 10 nights of rain, cloud and sunshine, people came from across the UK to hold vigil. Amid the prayers, Members of Parliament from across the political spectrum visited the site. Some spoke with their local constituents about why they were there, leaving with the clear message that people of faith want the UK Government to take bold climate action.

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People hold vigil overnight wearing waterproof jackets in the rain outside Westminster Credit: Amy Sheppy/Christian Aid
People hold vigil overnight wearing waterproof jackets in the rain outside Westminster
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Christian Aid supporters from Scotland stand with their MP outside parliament with Big Ben in the background Credit: Jessica Hall/Christian Aid
Christian Aid supporters from Scotland stand with their MP outside parliament with Big Ben in the background

Cath and Richard Dyer travelled from Falkirk, Scotland to spend 7 hours over night at the vigil and met with their MP John McNally. Cath said:

“We joined the vigil at midnight and were grateful it was dry and fairly mild. The moon was with us most of the night and there was a beautiful sunrise behind Big Ben. It made us so conscious of the beauty of creation and, at the same time, the terrible damage that human beings are doing to it.

We have to persuade our politicians to stop allowing any more fossil fuel extraction, invest heavily in renewable energy and a just transition for workers in the oil and gas industries, contribute substantially to the UN’s loss and damage fund, and make polluters pay."

The vigil also reached the wider faith community with a interfaith prayers and reflections. People of different faiths gathered at St John's Waterloo and pilgrimaged to Parliament Square via the Shell building on the Southbank.

Together they called out the burning of fossil fuels and stood in prayer, hope and solidarity at the vigil for climate justice.

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People of faith pilgrimage to the vigil for climate justice stopping outside the Shell Building to pray Credit: People of faith pilgrimage to the vigil for climate justice stopping outside the Shell Building to pray
People of faith pilgrimage to the vigil for climate justice stopping outside the Shell Building to pray

Rev Vanessa Conant stood in vigil with members of her congregation from St Mary’s Church Walthamstow in East London. 

Prayer is powerful

Rev Vanessa Conant stood in vigil with members of her congregation from St Mary’s Church Walthamstow in East London. 

Julie Edwards, Climate Change Champion for the Church in Wales arrived at Westminster along with Christian Aid staff and campaigners. She said:

“I feel very strongly [that] climate justice is something we should all be taking action on, and none more so than those with the power to create worldwide change and bring justice for our global neighbours, who have contributed least and are impacted most by the climate crisis. This I prayerfully ask while standing in solidarity with those for whom the climate crisis is a daily reality.”

 

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Christian Aid staff and supporters from Wales stand vigil outside UK parliament Credit: Jennie Weaver/Christian Aid
Christian Aid staff and supporters from Wales stand vigil outside UK parliament
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People gather in a church to pray for global justice Credit: Christian Aid
three people stand in a line in a church building  with their hands each clasped in front of them in prayer with their eyes closed.

Meanwhile, around the UK, people have been holding vigils at home and at church. Sian Andrews gathered with her church in Hedge End, she said

"Our government isn’t doing enough to address the climate crisis. By taking part in this vigil, we are calling on the UK government to pay towards loss and damage, to stand up to the fossil fuel companies and to invest in renewables instead of new fossil fuel extraction projects.

If it was my voice alone it would be easy to despair, but this is why we reach out to God as we hope for a better future for all people, and join action with prayer."

Yes and Amen

As the 10 days of prayer came to a close, our banner was lifted from the ground and carried aloft from Whitehall to Downing Street.

Together a 'Yes and Amen' was said over the vigil, closing this holy time of prayer and protest. Those gathered shared reflections of their time at the vigil and prayers were made for our leaders, that they would have ears to hear our demands and be courageous in demanding bold climate action. 

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Christians gather opposite Downing Street to close the Lent Vigil for Climate Justice Credit: Holly Peterson/Christian Climate Action
Christians gather opposite Downing Street to close the Lent Vigil for Climate Justice

Press on in prayer and action

Our time in vigil has come to end but our task has not. Here's three things you can do to put faith into action for climate justice:

Talking Climate Justice

Find out how you and your church can get involved.

Prayers and Placards Activity Pack

Get your church acting for climate justice with this activity pack.

Write to your local politicians

Use our briefing to invite your local politicians to act for climate justice