JFF: The view from London

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A conversation with a priest recently brought into the spotlight something I’ve been pondering over for a while.

He told a tale of when he and his wife gave lodgings for a few weeks to a lady in his congregation who’d been left by her husband with three small children and no recourse to public funds. During this time, a conversation took place about how much she had to live on. “£60 a month”, she said.

What was this priest’s response? Not the response I was expecting.

He asked her if, when she got back on her feet, she would consider being his church treasurer. Reasoning that if she was so adept with the money she had, then surely these are the skills you want in someone looking after the money of the church.

Those who live life taking care of every single penny, without access to additional buffers if they overspend on a Friday night or a Saturday shop often have honed money and budgeting skills. Of course, this level of financial poverty isn’t a situation wished on anyone; but it’s been my experience that it’s invariably not something that could have been avoided if only they’d had “managed their money better”.

Are we missing a trick here? I want to suggest that we should be asking those who manage with less to pass on their talent. For they are often the ones who’ve learnt all the budgeting tricks in the book, have insider knowledge of the cheapest places to buy various grocery items, are practiced in having to make money stretch further. Are they not the ones who we should give expert status to?

I remember running a community group talking about money, just after the financial crash of 2008. It was with a group of mums in a school in East London. I asked how the crash had affected them. I will never forget one mum’s response as her face lit up. “It’s great” she said. “I’m allowed to be poor now. All the other mums are doing what I’ve done for years, shopping round, going to Lidl and getting bargains in the market. I can join in their conversations now without the shame.”

The shame she felt stopped her from sharing this vital skill set to her community: that of how to bring up children on a low income. If only she’d been empowered rather than feeling she had to hide it away.

Perhaps the first step is to recognise the gifts and talent that we have in our midst. It’s, first of all, a rebadging of ‘expert’ from those who have a public platform and it’s about releasing them into our churches, our communities and the Kingdom.

So where’s the story at for the lovely lady and her three children? Well, by God’s grace - and a whole lot of church support- she managed to find stable housing, was given leave to remain, is in a decently paid job, and her children are thriving at school.

Oh - and she’s now the church treasurer.

The view from London was written by Alison Tsang at Capital Mass.