Creating a place of hospitality and community for the homeless

Birmingham Churches Winter Night Shelter, supported by Church Urban Fund, provides emergency accommodation, food and support to homeless guests over the coldest months of winter

The Facebook page tells some of the story. An entry records the joy of knowing that one of the guests has found accommodation – “Last night, one of the guests leaned over and whispered “I’m in” – He has a place in a hostel and won’t have to go back to the streets.” Another post asks for prayers for a man, Tomas, who has been turned away as the shelter is full. In another, a guest who was a champion table tennis player in his own home country is pictured playing a table tennis coach who volunteers for work at the shelter.

Birmingham Churches Winter Night Shelter, hosted by 14 churches in the city, opened its doors in January and is due to close at the start of next month having provided 12 bed spaces over this period to a largely stable group of guests many of whom have ‘no recourse to public funds’. While the shelter is open to anyone who is considered ‘low risk’, many are European migrants who came to Britain for work, often seasonal, and found themselves destitute. Homelessness has dramatically worsened in Birmingham with the rough sleeper count rising from nine people in 2010 to 55 last autumn. Many campaigners have said they believed the official rough sleeper figures released annually are an underestimate.

The shelter works closely with professional organisations and takes referrals from a local charity that supports people experiencing homelessness. Some of the guests have been sleeping rough for several years. Guests and volunteers all sit down and eat together each night and there are activities such as pool, chess and table tennis. Guests are given help to meet longer term needs through support with finding housing and work and by linking them with other services. One guest for example, will be accompanied by volunteers this week in a journey to London to help him to start the process of replacing a lost passport. The shelter is supported by around 400 volunteers with six Anglican churches acting as hosts out of its 14 church venues. A further group of churches and charities provides transport for guests.

Sarah Turner, Development Worker for Thrive Together Birmingham, the Church Urban Fund joint venture with Birmingham Diocese, which supports the shelter, said: “I am always blown away by the response to the shelter – some of the churches end up with far more volunteers than they need. We have one venue that has a really lovely relationship with the local primary school where the school makes cakes and food for the guests. I think it is the most ecumenical project I work on. We hold a service at the end of the year which is a thanksgiving for everything that everybody has done and to pray for the guests and all those experiencing homelessness. We ask the different churches to look after different parts of the service. It is always a beautiful event.”

Birmingham Churches Winter Night Shelter is a collaboration of individuals, churches and charities including Housing Justice

Martha Linden, Archbishops’ Council senior media officer

‘God has really touched our hearts for these members of our community’

An extra £2 billion was announced by the Government this week to help tackle the social care crisis. We talked to three parishes in Salisbury and Bristol Dioceses where congregations are stepping in to meet the needs of the elderly, struggling families and people discharged from hospital with cleaning, gardening and decorating work.

At St Peter’s Church in Lawrence Weston, North West Bristol, ‘St Peter’s clean team’, cleans people’s homes and carries out tasks such as litter picking and decorating. The group was founded by Emma Murray and her husband Rev Dr Andy Murray, priest-in-charge of St Peter’s and St Andrew’s Avonmouth, as a response to the needs they had seen running the Bristol North West Food Bank, which carries out home deliveries to up to six households a month in the area.

Rev Murray said:  “We had been running the food bank for a number of years when we realised that we were not reaching a certain part of the community – Emma had done some work with the local GP surgery and health visitors who said ‘we are seeing people coming out of hospital who are permanently housebound’ – was there anything that we could do for them? Doing home deliveries for the food bank as a result of this request really opened our eyes to the sort of situations that some people are living in, in terms of not being able to care for themselves or keep on top of cleaning their homes. God has really touched our hearts for these members of our local community and He spoke clearly to Emma about starting the clean team.  The project is still in its infancy, and the amount we can do is limited by the number of people able to help.  However in spite of the small size of our team, we’ve had the opportunity to bless a wide range of people in our community, cleaning the homes of some elderly residents, and even a bit of painting and decorating.  We’ve also helped a couple of people recovering from serious injuries, cleaning their homes, and even doing their washing.  Some residents have needed several visits over a month or so, whereas for others, one visit is enough.

“The response has been overwhelmingly positive, people know we are Christians and they want to know why we do this. This has given us an opportunity to talk about our faith, about God’s love for them and his desire to see us serve others and show Jesus’ love in practical ways.”

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At St Mary’s Church in Marlborough  a team of congregation members provide practical help for people in the town including painting and redecorating, gardening, birthday cakes for children and making meals for struggling families. The group also provided 25 Christmas stockings for children last Christmas. Families in need are identified by a parents’ support adviser working with a local primary and secondary school. The group, set up around three years ago, is now looking to extend the work to reaching more elderly people in the town. Rev Janneke Blokland, team curate at St Mary’s, said: “Marlborough looks like a prosperous area but there are pockets of deprivation which are well hidden – around a quarter of housing in Marlborough is social housing which you wouldn’t expect and the shops in the high street are just too expensive for some people. We don’t proselytise, we don’t expect people who receive these services to come to church afterwards. By doing this work we show that somebody cares, that God cares.   It takes huge courage to allow these groups of people into your house but people have been very appreciative. We had one single mother who had received a meal who accidentally sent us a text meant for her mother saying ‘there’s been some lovely church people who have dropped off a meal’. It has done so much good for the members of the congregation too who have taken part. Not everyone necessarily wants to lead home groups in the church but many people are very happy to garden or do painting. We have two people in the congregation who are very good at making curtains, and a few people who love baking. Three years now into the project we are really starting to build relationships with people in the community.”

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Jenny Jones, a member of St James’ Church in Devizes, helped set up ‘the Noise’ in the town, modelled on a similar scheme in Bristol where volunteers work in the community. A group of 105 volunteers from the church cleared eight gardens last year in the town working in partnership with a housing association. They also ‘deep clean’ the local Alzheimer’s Support Day Centre twice a year and have worked on projects such as creating a wildlife area in a local primary school.  ‘Our help is freely offered and non judgmental, we simply lift what has become an unbearable burden completely away from people who may have had difficulties maintaining their garden – either because a family member has fallen ill or had an accident or has simply left.  We all wear blue T shirts which say on the back simply ‘The Noise: showing God’s love in practical ways’. Going out in a group helps people to feel more confident. Some of our congregation volunteer regularly in charity shops and they don’t necessarily get the chance to say that their motivation is loving your neighbour. This has been a way of meeting people that we definitely wouldn’t normally have met. Some have been invited as a result of the work to come to the Christmas lunch at the church. We see this as sowing small seeds – we don’t know where it will go, but it is changing attitudes to the church in the community.”

Martha Linden, Senior Media Officer, Archbishops’ Council

From flash mobs to pig races – taking the gospel to all in our communities

Rev Canon Sophie Jelley writes about how more than 450 events are to take place between Thursday and Sunday in Durham Diocese as part of the Talking Jesus programme

Picture by Keith Blundy

Ash Wednesday, the start of Lent, a new season begins – a time to reflect on the way life has been, and to look ahead to a new and different future.

On the second day of Lent we begin Talking Jesus Durham, a very special weekend of mission with Archbishop John Sentamu and 25 bishops from the Northern Province joining us with their teams.

After a launch service in Durham Cathedral taking in the history of Christianity in our region with inspiration from St Cuthbert and St Bede and all the northern saints we will go out to ‘Talk Jesus’ in every Deanery across Durham. From the Tyne to the Tees and the Dales to the Sea, more than 450 events will be happening in every community led by people from churches right across the region, helping us to ‘Bless our communities in Jesus’ name for the transformation of us all’.

There will be ceilidhs and comedy evenings, flash mobs in shopping centres, pub nights and pig races – there is no end to the creativity and fun. There is a sporty event at the County Cricket ground in Chester-le Street on Thursday evening, lots of visits to schools and colleges on Friday, youth and children’s’ events and family fun days in lots of places on Saturday. Park runs will be blessed by Bishops and there are music events to suit people of every taste.

The bible tells stories of Jesus at parties, Jesus at picnics and Jesus with every type of person in all kinds of places. The same is true today – as we put on events large and small, as we meet with people of all ages in all kinds of places across the Diocese of Durham, Jesus is with us. We want to tell people about him. Who He is and what He has done and the different He can make in our lives. Jesus is the Son of God who loves us, so we have a message of hope and new life; offering a new and different future for all people.

97% of people never go near a church. Talking Jesus is about taking church to them. To go with Jesus, to those He leads us to, to Talk Jesus and help the people that we know and care about to meet the One who cares so much for us. For those who want to know more after any of the events there are over thirty ‘Start! Courses’ being run all over the Diocese following on from Talking Jesus.

The final celebration takes place at Durham Cathedral at 3pm on Sunday afternoon. Archbishop Sentamu will be speaking. Music will be led by the oldest and newest churches in our Diocese:  Durham Cathedral Choir & the worship band from St George’s, Gateshead. Why not come and see for yourself.

Revd Canon Sophie Jelley is Diocese of Durham Director of Mission, Discipleship & Ministry and Canon Missioner at Durham Cathedral

Equipping children for the world in which they live

The Bishop of Ely, the Rt Revd Stephen Conway, the Church of England’s Lead Bishop on Education, sets out why he supports incorporating age-appropriate sex and relationship education into the national curriculum

Every parent wants the best for their children and every teacher wants their pupils to be safe as they negotiate life in an ever-changing world.  Even before the birth of the internet; the explosion of social media through mobile phones and the ever more pervasive reach of advertising, concerns about what some call the sexualisation of childhood were widespread.

It is only natural, given much that we see in the world around us, to want to shield children as long as we possibly can.

That is why many, including many Christians, are concerned about what children might be taught in schools. There are those who fear that proposals to incorporate a form of age-appropriate sex and relationship education into the national curriculum could expose children to too much too young.

“We cannot simply advocate an approach like the three monkeys coverings their eyes, ears and mouths, vowing to see, hear or speak no evil.”

But it is becoming increasingly clear that what might have held in previous eras is no longer the most effective way of keeping our children safe and preparing them for life in the world in which they live.

In an age when even primary school children are becoming exposed to online pornography – often by accident – and when practices such as “sexting” are becoming commonplace at a younger and younger age, we cannot simply advocate an approach like the three monkeys coverings their eyes, ears and mouths, vowing to see, hear or speak no evil.

The NSPCC’s ChildLine service has reported a sharp rise in contacts from children about online bullying over the last few years. In a seemingly ever more image-conscious and body obsessed society, even children now feel compelled to doctor photographs of themselves. At the same time, concerns have been raised that young children are growing up unable to spot the difference between airbrushed photographs of celebrities and the real thing.

That is why I believe there is a need for carefully targeted and age-appropriate relationship education for children from primary school.

This is not, as some might claim, about teaching young children the mechanics of sex – or indeed anything at all about sex at that age. But if we want children to build resilience it is important to start young, teaching them about strong and healthy relationships.

“If we want children to build resilience it is important to start young, teaching them about strong and healthy relationships.”

Some, including some Christians, will argue that school is not the right place to teach such matters. We are clear that any such legislative change should come with suitable safeguards to ensure that parents are consulted and retain the right to withdraw their children and that the education is be framed in a way which is appropriate to the ethos and character of the school.

But the Church of England is, collectively, the biggest single source of education in the country, with around a million children learning in its schools. We know from everyday experience of the pressing need to equip children for the world in which they are growing up.

The Rt Revd Stephen Conway
Bishop of Ely

Taking Ash Wednesday to the streets

1 March is Ash Wednesday when churchgoers up and down the country will have their foreheads marked with ash in the shape of a cross. But Church of England members will also be taking to the streets to reach out to the public, with shops, stations and markets as the backdrop to this centuries-old tradition.

Commuters heading to work around Croydon tram station will be offered a moment of calm from members of Croydon Minster, which they’ve tagged ‘Ash n’ Dash’. Those commuting in Bristol will have the opportunity throughout Lent to tap into ‘Bristol Time’ each morning, which is a 10-minute reflection repeated every 15 minutes for an hour in Bristol Cathedral.

Meanwhile shoppers and office workers on their lunch break will be offered ashes and prayer cards in Derby, Guildford and Cambridge city centres, with church members promoting their activity on Twitter using #AshesToGo. This hashtag has inspired High Wycombe C of E school to provide ashing to parents and pupils at the end of the school day. Members of St Mary Abbots Kensington are offering ashing on the street corner at the three busiest times of day, while St James Piccadilly are manning a 7 hour drop-in session.

For the Revd Tiffany-Alice Ewins, offering ashing outside the local library in Battersea is the perfect start to her ministry, having been licensed two days earlier. She said “the opportunity to take to the streets in a public act of witness and worship seems too good a gift to pass up! The idea is to offer a moment of connection to the many parents, carers and children on foot in the parish.”

Building on past success, a group of clergy from varying traditions in the deanery of Hadleigh are working together to offer ashing outside Benfleet Station and Tesco Southend, using #AshMob. The Revd Edward Stock said it’s a great opportunity to reach out to those who might not be able to get to church and also offer them prayer. Similarly, in Halesowen the Bishop of Dudley, alongside the Archdeacon and Diocesan Secretary, will be asking if there’s anything people would like the clergy to pray about for them.

Thomas Thorpe, Media Officer, Archbishops’ Council

Providing a network of support for mothers and babies

Research has shown there is overwhelming evidence that the bond between parent and child from birth to the age of three becomes even more crucial to a child’s development when added to poverty and other disadvantages. A pioneering project at St John the Evangelist Church in Angell, Town, Brixton, makes use of the community links of a church congregation to promote nurturing, bonding and breastfeeding rates in a deprived area of south London. In the blog below, we read about how the Babytalk project could be used as a template for other projects in churches across the country.

At St John’s, Angell Town, in Brixton, south London, parish priest Rosemarie Mallett dreams of buying a camper van to tour the local area to help bring a pioneering project promoting the well being of new mothers and babies to a bigger audience. Babytalk, based at the church, has reached more than 300 families since it was founded in 2015, running sessions at the church and within the local community and primary school on baby health, breastfeeding and bottle feeding and nurturing and bonding for mothers and babies. A survey by the National Childbirth Trust last year showed as many as a third of new mothers experience difficulty bonding with their baby. The parish, already well known in the capital for its community work on a deprived inner city estate, has drawn up its own ‘baby friendly’ policy adapted from Unicef guidelines and the policy could become a national template for work in this area for the charity Parish Nursing Ministries UK . The project whose funders include Southwark Diocese, has trained a team of volunteers to provide support to mothers and babies and has links to a Muslim women’s group. One of the pioneering aspects of the work has been ‘story telling’ workshops where mothers are encouraged to talk about their own experiences. Angela Sherridan, chaplaincy parish midwife for the church, and co-founder of the project, who works on Babytalk in a voluntary capacity, said: “On the Parochial Church Council we talked about the importance of breastfeeding and supporting mothers and finding an area if a mother wants to feed away from people. If a mum is bottle feeding, that means getting a bottle warmer in place. We are trying to help complement the NHS services and we work with the local infant feeding services including local ‘milk spots’ in Lambeth children’s centres where mothers can seek help with breastfeeding. The project is about helping women to bond with their babies and give them a network of support. It is in its early days but has already generated a lot of goodwill and support, with other community groups taking an interest, including a Latin American group asking for a package in Spanish. One of our plans in the future is to recruit a health visitor. We also hope to set up a conference to highlight some of the challenges that new mothers can face, particularly if they feel isolated. ”

Martha Linden, Archbishops’ Council senior media officer

Listen to an interview with volunteer Rosemarie Cordwell and midwife Angela Sherridan

The Babytalk project was co-founded by Canon Rosemarie Mallett, Terry Drummond, former policy adviser to the Bishop of Southwark, midwives Jess Gordon and Angela Sherridan and Mia Hilborn and the chaplaincy team at Guy’s and St Thomas’ NHS Foundation Trust. It was inspired by work to foster links between health care and faith groups promoted by the Chaplaincy at Guy’s and St Thomas’ NHS Foundation Trust. Its funders include Southwark Diocese, Guy’s and St Thomas’ Chaplaincy and the Lillian Nash fund.

The programme was runner up in the Ecclesiastical Insurance Churches Helping Community Competition. Read more and watch a video

An education where no passports are required

Around one million children in England – a quarter of primary pupils and one in 16 secondary students – attend Church of England schools, which welcome those from all backgrounds. At a time when racial and cultural tensions appear to be on the rise, Church schools are valued more than ever by people of all faiths and none, according to the Church of England’s Chief Education Officer Nigel Genders.

Millions of people living in England today attended a Church of England school and millions more will have a child or close relative who has benefitted from the experience of a church school education. Each one of them will have been shaped by the education they received and will remember the dedicated teachers and leaders in 4,700 schools across the length and breadth of the country – schools that offer an education which seeks to form children and young people as they themselves help shape the world in which we all live.

The Church of England’s commitment to education remains as strong as it has always been and we have recently offered a fresh vision for education. At a time when many are looking for a vision of education to enthuse and inspire them, this deeply Christian vision of education is one that is generous and seeks to allow the riches of Christian life to overflow to those of other faiths or no faith, but who share the bigger vision of what we think education is for.

But some still seem surprised when they hear of Church of England schools serving people of other faiths. One commentator recently suggested that if, in a majority Muslim area, parents are sending their children to Church of England schools, then the natural step would be to turn those schools into secular schools instead of church schools. But not only is that illogical, it is to miss the point entirely.

“We are proud that our Church of England schools are modelling an education where no passports are required and the doors are wide open to the communities they serve.”

We constantly hear from Muslim parents who tell us that they choose our schools precisely because we take faith seriously and offer an approach to education that gives attention to spiritual as well as academic development. They welcome the opportunity to send their children to a school which will ensure mutual understanding of faiths whilst being clear about the Christian heritage and underpinning narrative on which its ethos and values are based. Like the millions of others who have attended such a school, they know that we prepare children for life in modern Britain and a world that is increasingly connected.

The last year has seen a worrying rise in the numbers of registered hate crimes and racial or cultural tensions. The increasingly nationalistic tendencies in countries around Europe and across the Atlantic lead some to conclude that we should build walls of division and implement policies that keep ‘others’ out. But we are proud that our Church of England schools are modelling an education where no passports are required and the doors are wide open to the communities they serve. At heart we are offering an education that is deeply Christian, serving the common good, and the millions of people who have had their lives enriched by such an education will be pleased to know that we continue to do so.

How the faith of retired people is helping transform lives

Tens of thousands of volunteers support social action projects in England run by churches including winter night shelters, lunch clubs, credit unions and food banks. Many of these volunteers are retired people, whose skills and experience are crucial to the success of this work. We spoke to six Church of England worshippers who are retired or describe themselves as in ‘phased’ retirement and are involved in work from street pastors groups to helping people in debt.

George Martin, in his 70s, a worshipper at Southwark Cathedral, who formerly worked in international sales and at Buckingham Palace, is chair of the trustees of the Robes Project, the churches’ winter night shelter in the boroughs of Lambeth and Southwark.

The shelter started in 2007 with seven church halls and has grown over the past 10 years to 30 church venues of all denominations, supported by 800 volunteers. The project has a major fund raising drive every year with a Sleepout at Southwark Cathedral, raising £97,000 for its work last November with the organisers hoping this total will rise to £100,000. Over the past six years, the sleepout has raised almost £500,000 towards the running costs of operating the shelter. “I have done all the voluntary jobs, cooking, washing up, meeting and greeting, I have stayed overnight, I have done the breakfast run. I joined the team at Christ Church Blackfriars  for their night shelter and I will doing the cooking once for 20 guests over the next 10 weeks – that number rises to 28 or more because we all sit down together to eat, the guests and the volunteers, ” he said. “Some people say that as chair I am too hands on but I feel that is my role. I do it from the heart, because I believe that what I am doing is what the church should be doing. Robes has saved lives over the past 10 years. As chair, I go round as many of the venues as possible.”

Avril Loveless, 61, in ‘phased retirement’, works part-time as Professor of Education at Brighton University.

A worshipper at All Saints Church, Hove, she acts at coordinator of the night shelter at the church, part of a network of churches in the area hosting the shelter over 18 weeks between November and January. “I coordinate one day a week of the shelter. We have around 40 volunteers on our books and provide a hot meal and overnight accommodation for around 15 people who need it. Four people take turns to stay awake overnight in pairs in four-hour shifts. It is quite a precious time, just sitting quietly as the guests sleep. Some of the guests in the shelter go to work the following morning, so they have to get up early and freshen up. We serve them with a light breakfast and other guests then go off to a place called First Base which is a charity in Brighton that offers a full breakfast, showers and housing advice. The voluntary work is inter-generational and across all walks of life. We have energetic younger people who also volunteer for the lifeboats and people in their 80s who volunteer to do the overnight shifts. Over the last year, I have learned about the power of volunteers to come together as communities and keep a light burning during dark times.”

Dr Andrew Miller, 69, a retired NHS consultant in respiratory medicine and a worshipper at St Aldates Church in Oxford, has worked voluntarily as a street pastor since 2010 and is chairman of the Oxford group.  “We are a group of 19 trained volunteers from across the Christian denominations. We are in partnership with the police, night clubs and the council. We try to work in a group of at least three every Saturday and one Friday a month – especially after pay day when many people go out and celebrate. We leave our base at around 1045pm and we finish usually around 3.45am the next day. Our motto is ‘caring, listening, helping’ and we help people in a range of situations – handing out water and a space blanket for warmth, flip flops where clubbers have abandoned walking in their high heels, or lollipops as a way of defusing tensions. There are people who want to talk – I recently met somebody who had just been to a friend’s funeral and was pretty distraught and just wanted someone to listen, as do some rough sleepers. We don’t tell people what to do, we don’t preach, we let them talk and we listen. We walk six to eight miles a shift and we walk slowly, if you walk at normal speed people don’t tend to stop and talk to you. People are often curious and baffled as to why we do this work for nothing but they are glad we are there as a presence on the streets. We are a range of different people working as street pastors. In south London, where I worked as a street pastor before, we had two 83-year-old team members; one was so famous for her work that she was known on the streets as ‘The Legend’.”

Jewel Ahumibe, 67, a specialist neonatal nurse, from Birmingham, retired after nearly 40 years in the NHS in 2012.

A worshipper at St John’s Sparkhill since 1980, she began work as a volunteer helper at the Good Companion lunch club, part of the Narthex centre, in Birmingham last August. The lunch club meets on Tuesdays with around 16 elderly people attending. The Narthex Centre provides community facilities and services from the church, including a food bank, a resource store for refugees and asylum seekers and a youth club. “I am healthy and I know that there will come a time when I need help as well. I thought ‘why not give my time when I can?’” she said. “The clients arrive before the lunch and we have a bit of a chat, and then they play Bingo. They do some exercises and then they have lunch before they get picked up by the Ring and Ride. Last week we had a trip to the Pantomime and saw Dick Whittington. The people who come along are really appreciative.”

Phil and Christine Bromwich, from All Saints Church, Murston, Sittingbourne, Kent, work voluntarily at Murston Community Bank, based in the church and a savings club at Sunny Bank Primary school in Sittingbourne. Phil, 68, worked previously in costing and estimating work for a manufacturing company and Christine, 70, is a former school office manager. The couple, who first met when they were working at Barclay’s Bank, were able to use their expertise to help set up the community bank, a branch of Kent Savers credit union, three years ago. They now work for the bank a morning a week, and help administer a branch through a savings club at Sunny Bank Primary School in Sittingbourne, Kent, two mornings a week. They are planning to set up a debt advice centre at All Saints Church. “People come to the bank in all sort of situations.  It is very satisfying to meet people who have come to us severely in debt, knowing that you may not have solved all their problems, but you have been the catalyst for change for the better in their lives,” Phil said.

– Martha Linden Senior Media Officer, Archbishops’ Council

Making a difference, one loan at a time

The Churches’ Mutual Credit Union (CMCU) is celebrating a year of growth with the news of another big potential increase in its membership – with the inclusion of the Catholic Church in England and Wales and in Scotland within its ‘common bond’. 

Chief executive Hilary Sams writes about how the CMCU is helping build a stronger credit union sector that benefits everyone.

(Image: Archbishop Justin Welby and church leaders launch the Churches Mutual Credit Union website, London, 11 February 2015.)

“I’m often asked if I miss working in the community credit union sector. Do I regret no longer working at the coal face of financial exclusion, making a difference to those abandoned by the mainstream financial institutions?

It’s not the easiest question to answer – to say no would risk giving  the impression that I am indifferent to the plight of the poor (which I am not) but a yes implies that the work of Churches’ Mutual is somehow of less value than that of other credit unions.

Call it clichéd but I have always loved the story of the starfish on the beach and the young boy’s mission to make a difference, if not to all of them, but to as many as he could, one at a time. This parable has helped me face some of the most daunting tasks in my life, and it applies to  the challenge facing us and many other credit unions, how do we become the lender of choice for people who have a choice?

Since we started lending in May 2015, the credit union’s loans have purchased 213 cars, two caravans and a motorbike, we have improved and helped to furnish seventeen homes, helped to pay for four weddings and three holidays and one laptop. This is important to us because this is mainstream lending – people who have a choice about where they source their credit are choosing to use CMCU because in addition to the co-operative and mutual ethos the loans are competitive, manageable, convenient and unambiguous. This kind of lending makes us strong and sustainable and a strong and sustainable credit union sector benefits everyone, the disadvantaged most of all. If we lend a minister £10,000 to buy a car it allows us to lend a church cleaner on minimum wage £300 to buy a washing machine.

It also allows us to be responsive to our members’ needs in the loans we offer. Since January last year we have walked alongside 31 households in helping to turn unmanageable debt into affordable credit and 16 ordinands as they settled into their first curacies. I’ll let one of them have the last word:

“Other loan companies wouldn’t consider us because we were finishing student life, changing job, moving and without a regular salary in place.(with the loan from CMCU) We felt blessed at a vulnerable time”

– Hilary Sams, CMCU Chief Executive

The CMCU was launched in February 2015 by the Archbishop of Canterbury and other church leaders with the Church of England, Church of Scotland, Methodist Church, Scottish Episcopal Church, and the Church in Wales as founder members. The United Reformed Church joined last year.

Care for creation as a part of everyday parish life

The Eco Church award scheme will mark its first anniversary with environmentally themed ‘Green Communion’ services at churches and cathedrals across the country this Sunday.

TRINITY church, based in three locations across Lewes, East Sussex, was part of the launch of the scheme at St Paul’s Cathedral and this year achieved a bronze award. Martin Pett, a worshipper at Trinity, and a member of the Chichester Diocesan Environmental Group, writes about the work achieved so far by the church.

“In embracing Eco Church, we have worked with our children’s groups on environmental activities including building nest boxes, setting up hedgehog houses and making bird feeders in all three churchyards. We have done a lot to promote biodiversity in our churchyards including sowing ‘Yellow Rattle’ a plant which helps reduces the vigour of the grass, thereby encouraging wildflowers to grow. We also have beehives in one of the churchyards to aid pollination. 

We recently carried out an energy audit of all the buildings at all three locations and this information will be used to look at ways of reducing our carbon foot print. People from the congregation have been to Rwanda where they have taken part in various environmental projects including building gardens to provide fresh vegetables. We also have a water engineer who has been involved in rainwater harvesting projects both for domestic properties and schools in Rwanda. An ethical purchasing policy ensures that everyone considers carefully all food purchased for the church. There are regular services at the church with an environmental theme and follow ups in small groups.

“We started with a small band of people who were passionate about the environment – some might initially have seen us as a group of ‘tree huggers’.  As our work has reached more people in the congregation, particularly through our education projects with children, more people have become involved and understand more about environmental issues. We are now well on the way to achieving a silver award.”

 Martin Pett  is a horticulturalist and a former head gardener at London Zoo

To read more Eco Church awards see http://ecochurch.arocha.org.uk/