Today, on what would have been the 100th birthday of Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh, who inspired the whole movement of faiths and environmental groups working together, FaithInvest Founding President and Interim CEO Martin Palmer pays tribute to him and describes how we are continuing his legacy with our new FaithPlans Programme.
Today would have been the 100th birthday of Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh, the Queen’s beloved husband – and founder of the whole work of faith and environmental groups working together.
In the UK, those who reach 100 receive a formal message of congratulations from the Queen on their birthday. That Prince Philip is not able to receive his message will bring added poignancy to today for Her Majesty. Those who saw his moving funeral from Windsor Castle will recognise the sense of loss we saw so clearly when the Queen sat alone in the chapel because of Covid restrictions.
I had the honour of working with Prince Philip for over 35 years and I want to pay tribute today to the extraordinary initiative he took in 1985 when he suggested to the world's major conservation and environmental organisations that if they were really interested in changing the way people thought and acted towards the environment, they needed to do this in partnership with the only group that has ever successfully changed hearts and minds – namely, the faiths.
This was how he and I began working together, when Prince Philip asked me to design the first ever such formal meeting between these different worlds. In September 1986 we held this historic meeting in Assisi, Italy, the birthplace of St. Francis.
Powerful stakeholders in the planet
What neither he nor I realised at the time was that the major faiths are not just the great spiritual resources of the world, sharing profoundly deep insights into what it means to be human and how we find our place within nature, they are also among the most powerful stakeholders in the planet.
"As we developed the work of faith and environment, began to realise something. No-one had ever tried to audit what the faiths owned, ran, influenced or funded."
As we developed the work of faith and environment, primarily through creating the Alliance of Religions and Conservation (ARC), we began to realise something. No-one had ever tried to audit what the faiths owned, ran, influenced or funded. An early start was the creation of the first Atlas of Religion in 1997 which mapped topics such as the financial teachings and programmes of the faiths; their media presence; their political alliances (such as established faith status); the mutli-faith movements; gender issues; and sacred lands.
Being able to show the reach and role of faiths in the world helped build partnerships with groups such as the World Bank and the UN. In 1998 Prince Philip hosted leaders from the World Bank and the faiths and began to discuss how their assets – so long un-recorded or valued – could contribute to protecting people and planet.
A new movement
Building on that, we held our first meeting of the investment managers of the world’s faiths in 2001 in New York and since then, with the active blessing and involvement of Prince Philip right up to his death earlier this year, we began to build a new movement: a movement directed at enabling the faiths' investments to be foremost among those seeking to invest in – literally – creating a better world.
Today FaithInvest exists and is driving forward this vision of Prince Philip. Without his creative skills, his authority and his willingness always to see the next three or four steps ahead, FaithInvest would not exist.
One of the most significant moments of Prince Philip’s work with the faiths came in 2009 when he welcomed the then UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon to Windsor Castle (pictured below). They launched what became more than 60 Faith Long-term Plans, out of which grew whole new faith environment organisations and programmes around the world.
When FaithInvest and WWF’s Beliefs and Values Programme (both outcomes of ARC) announced that, in response to requests from the UK government (host of this year's COP26 UN climate conference) and other major secular groups, we would launch a second round of long-term faith commitments on the environment, Prince Philip was delighted. The day he died, I was writing to him to say the Chinese Daoists and Buddhists had joined as he had a specific interest, especially in Daoism. (Prince Philip is pictured below meeting Daoist leaders in 2017.)
The new FaithPlans programme
We will formally launch our FaithPlans Programme and website – www.faithplans.org (pictured below, not yet live) – by the end of this month. In the meantime, you can find out more about the programme on our website here. We now anticipate that hundreds of Faith Plans will be launched next year, creating the biggest faith initiative to address environment issues ever undertaken.
When we celebrate these new Faith Plans next June when Prince Philip's 101st birthday will fall, it will, we hope, be a fitting tribute to this astonishing man – and much missed friend.
So today we say 'Happy Birthday, Prince Philip'. And we pledge to keep on working for the greater role of faiths in shaping a better future. We will continue to try and be as prophetic as Prince Philip who once put the issue very simply: