Church Commissioners’ questions – climate change and open church buildings

On 10th September 2015 Caroline Spelman, the Second Church Estates Commissioner, answered two oral questions in the House of Commons,on climate Change and open and sustainable churches.  

Climate Change

Kerry McCarthy (Bristol East) (Lab): What steps the Church Commissioners are taking to support the Church of England’s international efforts to tackle climate change. [901256]

Spelman CCQs June 2015 1The Second Church Estates Commissioner (Mrs Caroline Spelman): The Church of England, along with the wider Anglican Communion, is actively tacking climate change in four ways: assessing its investment strategy and, where necessary, divesting in the context of our climate change policy; actively engaging with public policy; attending the forthcoming Paris conference; and encouraging its parishes to reduce their carbon footprint and their parishioners to do the same.

Kerry McCarthy: I thank the right hon. Lady for that response. As she mentions, the Church has made some progress and is divesting £12 million from highly polluting coal and tar sands investment, but there is still quite a significant degree of investment in companies such as Shell, in respect of which there are still concerns about involvement in fossil fuels and the exploration of the Arctic, for example. Does the right hon. Lady feel that the Church could go further?

Mrs Spelman: I would encourage the hon. Lady to come to a reception with the Church Commissioners that I have organised for Members to discuss the ethical investment strategy that now applies to Church investment. She is right that divestment of investment in thermal coal and tar sands has occurred, and there are no direct investments in any company of which more than 10% of its revenues are derived from the extraction of thermal coal or from tar sands.

Mr David Nuttall (Bury North) (Con): Does my right hon. Friend agree that the Church should be spending its time looking at ways to increase the size of church congregations rather than trying to control the world’s climate?

Mrs Spelman: Our commitment to climate change in no way detracts from the central mission of the Church, which is to encourage people to faith. As part of our faith, however, we have to demonstrate environmental stewardship. As the Archbishop of Canterbury has said, the Anglican Communion has an unrivalled network through which to encourage laggards in the quest to tackle climate change and to play a positive role at the conference in Paris.

Jeremy Lefroy (Stafford) (Con): My right hon. Friend rightly refers to the Anglican Communion. What discussions and consultations does the Church of England have with the worldwide Anglican Communion to listen to them about the impact of climate change in their own countries?

Mrs Spelman: The Church of England devoted a whole day of its General Synod in York to a debate on climate change, in which the Archbishop of Canterbury and I spoke, outlining the ability of our worldwide network to help the nations that are worst affected by climate change. Sadly, they are the poorest nations in the world. That is why the Government’s commitment to an ambitious outcome in Paris is so important.

Use of Church Buildings

Bob Blackman (Harrow East) (Con): What steps the Church Commissioners are taking to encourage churches to use their buildings to offer more services to the community beyond worship. [901258]

The Second Church Estates Commissioner (Mrs Caroline Spelman): The Church of England’s Cathedral and Church Buildings Division developed the open and sustainable churches initiative five years ago, and now 80% of churches provide a function beyond purely worship, with 54% of Anglican parishes running at least one organised activity to address social need.

Bob Blackman: I thank my right hon. Friend for her answer. What is the Church of England doing in ethnically diverse areas, where large numbers of people are not of the Anglican faith, to open up the buildings so that they are used regularly by the whole community, rather than just by those of that faith?

Mrs Spelman: I can reassure my hon. Friend that we are opening up churches to the social needs of the community and using them for a wide range of purposes. For example, churches are being used as citizens advice bureaux, post offices, shops, night shelters and food banks. Let me give the example of two churches in his area of Harrow: St Paul’s has a job club open to people of all backgrounds; and All Saints’ Harrow Weald provides not only an art exhibition facility but a forest school. These facilities are open to all.

Richard Benyon (Newbury) (Con): Does my right hon. Friend agree that this is precisely the sort of issue where local leadership in the Church can make a difference? She might therefore understand the confusion in the Oxford diocese, where it has been many months since we had a bishop and it could be a year before one begins his or her new role.

Mrs Spelman: I am aware of the circumstances in the Oxford diocese. The Crown Nominations Commission did convene on 11 and 12 May but was unable to discern who the right candidate for the Bishop of Oxford should be. A number of bishop appointments need to take place in sequence, so the next time the Commission convenes will be on 4 February. We all hope that in short order the right candidate will be found, but Colin, the acting bishop, is doing a splendid job and he is confident, as are his senior staff, that the needs of the diocese will be fully met.

Oliver Colvile (Plymouth, Sutton and Devonport) (Con): My right hon. Friend made a good point about the use of churches for community activities. Last Friday, I helped launch one such activity that was taking place at St Simon’s, and I would be grateful if she would came to Plymouth to see for herself how very good that is—perhaps she would come to a breakfast meeting.

Mrs Spelman: What a splendid invitation—how could I refuse? The example that my hon. Friend gives might prompt all Members here to look at the Church’s website, where there is a toolkit to help any church wishing to broaden its use in the ways we have described to find out how that can be done and to share best practice.

(via Parliament.UK)