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Heated cushions for zero carbon churches as Bishop praises 'brilliant' Extinction Rebellion

Patrick Sawer
Heated cushions could soon be used to keep congregations warm in draughty, ancient churches such as Salisbury Cathedral to help the CoE meet its new a zero emissions target by 2045 - EPA

The Church of England is turning to heated cushions to help beat climate change as part of its new zero carbon strategy, unveiled by a senior bishop who yesterday described the militant green movement Extinction Rebellion as “brilliant”.

In what is being regarded as a highly significant move, Anglican leaders are set to adopt the zero emissions target as part of their response to what the CofE will next month declare to be “climate emergency”.

It wants to reduce its carbon output to zero by 2045 at the latest, five years earlier than the Government's own target for the country.

The announcement, ahead of next month’s Church Synod, came as the Bishop of Salisbury, Nicholas Holtam, called Extinction Rebellion “brilliant” for having forced governments to pay more attention to the climate crisis.

ER’s supporters have been arrested in their hundreds for blocking roads and bridges and stopping traffic in cities in protest at climate change, drawing fire from Government ministers for their actions.

Environmental activists during a protest organised by Extinction Rebellion at the Brussels Motor Show in January Credit: NICOLAS MAETERLINCK/AFP

But announcing the church’s zero carbon target the Right Reverend Holtam said yesterday: “Isn’t Greta Thunberg marvellous? Aren’t Extinction Rebellion brilliant in moving the environmental issue up the genda of people’s concerns.Something has happened in the past year in pushing this up the agenda.”

The church says it needs to move away from gas and oil heating  in favour of more renewable energy sources to heat its 16,000 churches - many of them ancient, cavernous buildings - alongside thousands of community halls, schools and offices.

Providing central heating for a church can cost anything from £20,000 to £80,000 a year. 

The Synod’s Climate Emergency paper says part of the answer will be to “heat people not building”, by using chargeable heated cushions placed on pews, instead of expensive and carbon generating radiators and electric heaters.

Several churches are already using the cushions, which were developed by a Dutch inventor to tackle the problem of patio heaters in bar and restaurant terraces which create large amounts of wasted energy.

The battery operated cushions, costing around £100 each, provide heating for up for between two and four hours, with members of the congregation able to adjust the temperature. Mains-powered versions are also available. 

Among the churches already using similar cushions are St. Peter’s in Newton Bromswold, Northamptonshire; All Saints in Richard’s Castle, Shropshire; Holy Trinity in Whitfield, Kent and All Saints’ in Cranham. East London.

As part of the push towards zero emissions individual parishes will also be encouraged to use ground water heating rather than oil or gas systems to warm church buildings.

Churches will be issued with a new rating tool, which calculates their energy consumption, taking into account factors including the type of power they use, the size of the building and usage.

The tool will produce an easy to understand energy rating similar to the ones applied to washing machines and fridges.     

Rt Revd Holtam said the church had to step up its response to what it will declare at its three-day synod, which opens on February 10, to be a climate emergency.

He said: “Christians are called to safeguard God’s creation and sustain and renew the life of the earth. Faced with the reality of catastrophic climate change, which will affect the world’s most vulnerable people the soonest, radical and immediate action is our only option.”

Rt Revd Holtam added: “However, churches are not museums; they are living buildings which serve their communities every day of the week, and being greener isn’t about doing less, it’s about equipping parishes to get smarter about energy consumption.”

“Setting a ‘net zero’ target of 2045, five years ahead of the Government’s target, would nonetheless represent a significant statement of intent by General Synod, one which will require innovation, faith and dedication from our churches, schools, and communities.”