Personal debt: churches CAN help
The story of Community Money Advice (CMA) is one of vision, hope and the power of God’s grace. By John Franks
In 1997, Heather Keates (now CEO of Community Money Advice) opened a free, face to face, unconditional, debt advice service in her church in Burgess Hill, Sussex. In the years prior to this, Heather, her husband Tim, and their young family had been through a devastating and testing time: they had lost their baby son Tom to a hole in the heart, and shortly afterwards Tim’s design business collapsed.
While working through their grief they also had to manage crushing debt, and to their horror found there was very little practical advice available to them to deal with that debt. So they taught themselves how to do it.
It was at this time that the Lord - dramatically and undeniably - gave Heather a vision and a commission: that she should help others blighted by debt, and through that work express the love of Christ. Matthew 25:35 ‘I was hungry and you gave me something to eat’.
Obeying the call, Heather opened and ran that debt advice service in Burgess Hill, and despite the apparent wealth of that town and region, she and her fellow volunteer advisers were quickly inundated with clients in financial straits.
The vision grew. The Lord told Heather she wasn’t thinking big enough, and subsequently other churches began to ask her for help in setting up similar debt advice services. Financial support from the New Frontiers church network allowed the production of the first Setting Up A Debt Advice Centre handbook (still in use today in updated form) and in time Heather’s role in God’s work changed from running a debt advice centre to helping others establish more. On the 20th anniversary of the opening of that first centre, CMA has been established as a charity for 15 years and now supports a network of over 150 debt advice services across the UK, helping thousands of families to escape the blight of debt every year. And this is only the beginning of the fulfilment of the vision the Lord gave Heather.
Corsham Money and Debt Advice, Corsham Baptist Church
Personal debt is one of the biggest challenges facing and damaging our society today, and it is an issue which pains God’s heart. It contravenes His instruction on debt and bondage release expressed through Jubilee (Leviticus 25) and drives people into poverty; and our Lord told us we should always have a heart for, and help, the poor.
In the UK today people are carrying nearly £1.5 trillion of debt, with up to 10 per cent of families estimated to be struggling with debts they cannot repay, and many more on the edge. It is projected that the total personal debt will increase to £2.2 trillion by 2022, and even today, the problems arising from delays in Universal Credit payments and the forthcoming increase in interest rates, are set to tip untold numbers of people into financial crisis.
What can you do?
Watching poverty is painful, and especially when the Holy Spirit is working within us, instilling greater love and compassion in our hearts; and we can feel useless, unable to help those around us in need. But you CAN help …
CMA can provide you with all the guidance and support you need to set-up and run a debt and money advice service in your church, to form an important part of your compassionate outreach into your local community. People in your community may not be able, yet, to understand the gospel message (why should they?) but they can understand love expressed through practical help. Money trouble is one of the biggest fears, and source of stress and misery, in our society, and when you help people escape that hell, you are truly doing the Lord’s work.
Matthew 25:40 ‘I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these, you did for me.’
A number of Baptist churches are already running CMA affiliated debt advice centres. They take full responsibility for the work and their clients, and it is a big commitment because you have to walk alongside a client for many months and even years. But CMA is there for every centre, providing support through field managers; all the policy and procedure documentation and guidance you need to run a fully ‘professional’ service; telephone and email advice available to you 12 hours a day, manned by experienced debt advisers; the software you need to manage client cases; and crucially, full training in debt advice work.
Bob Ellett runs a CMA affiliated service from his Baptist church in Shepshed. He is passionate about the work and passionate about encouraging other churches to join in with the vision: he has recently helped a local church in Ibstock do just that.
The video below captures this passion, while it's worth noting that a number of Baptist churches run CMA affiliated debt advice centres.
You can start small, with two or three advisers and carry a light caseload of clients, or your vision may be larger and include an employed manager and a large team of advisers with hundreds of clients on your books. But it doesn’t matter which, because every single client helped is someone escaping from a hell and experiencing God’s love for them through your unconditional and non-judgemental care.
Much more can be said about debt advice work and the part it plays in expressing the Lord’s love to people through help exactly where clients need that help in their lives. CMA can teach you how to do it and provide all the support you need to get involved in this work.
If you are convicted that you should look deeper into this, then simply email CMA, including a postal address and phone number, via: firstname.lastname@example.org and we will send you an introductory pack and arrange for one of our field team to make contact; they can answer questions by phone or email, and most importantly can visit you and talk to you in any context from a one-to-one chat, through a meeting of church leaders and interested church members, to a full blown presentation to the whole church. We aren’t pushy, we don’t hard sell, but we do encourage and support, and can be there for you according to your need and vision.
… And speak to Bob at Shepshed, or others in the Baptist Union already working with CMA.
Betty at Jubilee Debt Advice New Life Baptist Church, Northallerton
Finally, be inspired by a quotation which summarises so well, why more and more Christians want to, and are committing to, this vital work.
‘Preach the gospel, use words if you have to.’ St Francis of Assisi
John Franks is the CMA's Chief Operating Officer