Can your church help with the coming bills crisis?

It’s been a strange summer this year. The children have been off school and we’ve had our usual holidays and days out, but the pleasures of summer have been set against a background of mounting crisis. Drought, record-breaking heat, political chaos, and rising prices.

Looming over the final days of the holiday is August 26th, the day when OFGEM announce the energy price cap rise for October. Energy prices are expected to double to an average of £3,628 per household per year, rising again in January and in April. For many households, this will be a crippling sum of money to find. Rates of fuel poverty will skyrocket. Many will have to switch off their heating. It’s going to be a difficult winter.

Every household will have to think through their response, and whether there is anything they can do in advance of the winter. Though we have already done a lot, my wife and I have been discussing any extra things we can do to add insulation and trim our bills. As Christians, we are also thinking about what we can do as a community.

How can churches help in the coming crisis? It’s a question I am asking myself, rather than hoping to answer conclusively in this post. Please do offer your advice, suggestions and stories in the comments below. I’m sure some of your churches are already doing things that we could learn from (as well as praying for a mild winter!) Here are some possible starting points:

Support for bills – the church I am part of runs a food bank, and as part of that there has always been a small contingency fund that people can apply for in emergencies. We have discussed scaling this up as a way of supporting church members or those in the community who need help with bills. In the earliest days of the church, in the book of Acts, we see Christians offering their surplus to meet others’ shortfall. This winter we might see need to see more of that spirit with energy bills.

Warm refuges – this week libraries, museums, churches and other venues were pledging to stay open as warm havens for the community. While churches themselves face the challenge of paying the bills, many may be well placed to offer a warm refuge. In some places there are local networks of warm hubs, such as this one in Warwickshire, that coordinate access across the community. This may be something that churches can support.

Sharing buildings – equally, some churches may find that they simply cannot afford to stay open – especially churches with small congregations in larger, older buildings. This could be a time for better funded congregations to open up to their neighbours, making the building available to host services in afternoons or evenings, or combining events. This will be true beyond churches as well. Other groups that run their own buildings on small budgets, such as the scouts, may be struggling to pay the bills. Churches have always offered a warm welcome, but it may be time to make that more literal.

DIY support – Transition Towns groups sometimes have a team of volunteers who can help people with insulation, draft-exclusion and other small DIY tasks that can help with bills. Could your church recruit a small team? An afternoon of moving boxes and lagging a loft, for example, could make a big difference to a household – particularly for those church members who may not be able to do these sorts of things for themselves.

Debt advice – some churches already offer debt advice services, and the demand for debt support is going to rise dramatically in the coming months. Now would be a good time to train up some new volunteers, or expand into that are of work. Even basic household budgeting techniques, for congregants and community alike, could make a big difference.

Advocacy – there are of course Christian charities and campaigns that have been working on these sorts of issues for a long time. As I think about what my church can do, I am looking to Christians Against Poverty, or Jubilee’s campaign Together Against Debt to see what wider campaigns we can support.

We have a couple of months before the heating goes on and the bills start to mount up. So although it is still the summer, now is the time to think ahead and make some plans. It’s something I’m doing myself, and I’d be interested to hear what you and your church are up to as we face the challenge of the energy price crisis.

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