By the end of this year, up to two-thirds of all families in the UK could find themselves facing fuel poverty. According to projections from the University of York, this would include over 80% of pensioners and 90% of all lone parent families. With the price of food and energy bills set to soar, more than 10 million people will struggle to afford eating and heating this winter.
When asked about the scale of the cost-of-living crisis, Money Saving Expert, Martin Lewis said, “This winter is going to be bleak. Unless action is taken we are facing a potential national financial cataclysm.”
There is a clear biblical call for churches to respond and bring light and life to those suffering, meeting both their physical and spiritual needs. The ChurchWorks Commission aims to help local churches to do just that during this particular moment of struggle.
ChurchWorks was founded during the Covid-19 pandemic and comprises a group of senior leaders from major church denominations and networks. The Chair, Rt Revd Paul Butler, Bishop of Durham, is clear that in this crisis our focus must be, “on the poorest and the most in need.” Their aim is to equip churches to support the most vulnerable members of their communities.
Over the last few months, ChurchWorks has been rallying senior leaders from churches, but also from charities, government and civil society. After a meeting with the commissioners, former Prime Minister Gordon Brown said, “This crisis goes far beyond politics; this is a moral issue – our responsibilities to our neighbours and in particular to those who have the least and whose needs are the greatest. Churches have a vital role to play in our national response to the cost-of-living crisis.” Since then, he has been working with churches and Christian charities to help launch the Warm Welcome campaign.
The campaign is gathering congregations and organisations from across the country to open thousands of Warm Welcome centres: spaces that are free, warm and safe for those in need. This will happen through partnering with national and local charities who provide programmes with a track record of personal transformation and community regeneration. From food banks to debt advice centres, breakfast clubs to homework clubs, toddlers’ groups to older people’s groups – these are just a few of the ways that churches will share the good news of Jesus with those in need. Churches will offer places of warmth and personal connection, providing activities that give people a reason to enter their local church without fear or stigma.
ChurchWorks is already inundated with congregations and charities uniting to offer that warm welcome this winter and have registered the first thousand Warm Welcome centres in churches across the country. “At a time of great difficulty, these congregations and charities are grasping the opportunity to make the gospel real, offering hospitality and relationship to those who would otherwise be suffering on their own.” says coordinator David Barclay, “Warm Welcome churches will combine practical love and support, with pastoral care and prayer for the most vulnerable. These churches will not only help people through a cold, dark winter, but will see many come to Jesus.”
While churches are taking on this challenge up and down the country, for many church leaders, the cost-of-living crisis presents a cost-of-mission crisis. With local congregations also facing a hike in energy bills and food costs, the prospect of opening the doors for longer periods, providing a warm space and sharing food and hospitality, creates another financial challenge. To this end, the Commission are encouraging everyone to consider supporting Christian charities and local churches that are delivering a Warm Welcome in different communities across the country.
For many the next months will be their time of greatest need, but some of us can help churches to beat the cost-of-mission crisis through generous giving. By giving a bit more, making small sacrifices and sharing what we have been given, we can help churches to truly display Jesus in their communities, alleviating the suffering of others. ChurchWorks is already hearing stories from people who are planning to donate their Government energy rebate to a church or charity. More besides are giving of their time and joining a Warm Welcome team in their own church or community.
Jude Levermore, Head of Mission for the Methodist Church, is both deeply concerned by the problems ahead and hugely encouraged by the willingness of churches to provide practical and pastoral solutions. “They are so imaginative and determined to become the change they want to see. They connect with those with lived experience of poverty and co-create solutions that actually work. These people with deep community connections can reach the parts that local services often struggle to reach. They have trust, credibility and expertise. I’m just proud that we can support them.”
As the scale of the crisis has continued to emerge, so has the response of churches from across the country. National leader of The Salvation Army, Anthony Cotterill wrote, “The Church is at her best when we step up, make a stand and walk and weep with those affected by almost overwhelming challenges. The cost-of-living crisis is no exception. While our own resources and finances are under extreme pressure, we are determined, in the name of Jesus, to support and journey with people, keeping their heads and hearts above rising and threatening waters.”
The situation is serious but the response to the Warm Welcome campaign has been wonderful. If we can pray, work and give together, we can provide millions of people with the warmest of welcomes and share the hope of salvation that our country and communities need.
If anyone has material possessions and sees a brother or sister in need but has no pity on them, how can the love of God be in that person? Dear children, let us not love with words or speech but with actions and in truth. (1 John 3:17-18)
Visit Stewardship’s UK Poverty and Debt page to find charities working to combat the cost-of-living crisis.
To discover more about what’s going on in your community, or how you can be part of the WarmWelcome campaign, go to WarmWelcome.uk and pledge your support.
For the millions of people who are genuinely struggling to get by, that they will find help to sustain them over the winter months, that churches will find ways to provide the physical and relational warmth that people need and offer practical and spiritual support to change lives for good.
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