[Our Christmas Message this year comes from Peter, Bishop of Doncaster]
A couple of months ago on National Credit Union Day, I joined - along with Susan Jordan, Chief Executive St. Leger Homes - the South Yorkshire Credit Union. Credit Unions are an excellent way of saving and mutually benefit others in our communities who are less fortunate. When you invest in your local credit union you know it’s your neighbours or colleagues who are benefiting. They offer an alternative to bank and building societies and are easier to open. Savings are insured by the Financial Services Compensation Scheme and payments can be made into accounts at local collections points or directly deducted from your wages.
The Government’s changes to welfare benefits mean that people will need an account to receive their payments and the credit union is an ideal option for those who don’t currently have a bank account and want a safe place to save money and access affordable loans.
I was inspired to join the credit union because of a deep rooted concern that has grown over the past twelve months for those affected by crippling debt created by taking out loans from ‘Pay Day Lenders’ or ‘Door Step Lenders’. I hope that some of what I pay into the credit union will be able to facilitate loans to support those in financial difficulty. It’s only a small gesture but if we all did something similar it would turn into a very significant one with positive implications. This doesn’t sound very Christmassy I know, but at this time of year as many of us are busy spending money on gifts and the trimmings that will make for a great Christmas, others will be getting into or increasing their debts with the implications that go with it. My heart goes out to them and I yearn for Christmas and the New Year to bring them something better. I know their problems can’t be resolved over-night but the support of the Christian community both practically and prayerfully can bring the light of Christ to shine in their lives, bringing it into a new perspective with renewed hope and the promise of a richer and fulfilled life.
Every Christmas is a reminder that God sent his Son into a world that was full of despair and hopelessness, a world of gloom and darkness. Christ came down to our level and lived amongst the mess and bleakness of people’s everyday lives and problems. His heart went out to them in unconditional love. God’s extravagant love for each of us was demonstrated on the Cross, the coming of Christ into the world and his death on the Cross are inextricably linked together in a journey of compassion and love for those in need of hearing the good news of salvation. In Christ all hope is found, in Jesus God meets us and turns our hope into joy.
As we approach Christmas my hope is that it will be a happy and blessed one for you all. But Christmas is also a time of reflection, so I hope that in the midst of your celebrations you will stop for a moment to reflect on and pray for those for whom Christmas will not be a happy or joyous occasion, those suffering unbelievable debt and worry, family and financial crisis. But let Christmas also inspire you as Christians who’ve experienced the unconditional and saving love of Christ to make a New Year’s resolution to respond in whatever way you can, not only to continuing prayer but positive action that makes a difference and in doing so bring hope and promise of a new and better life to those on the edge of despair and hopelessness. Wishing you all a very happy and blessed Christmas and New Year.