Bishop Christopher writes...
Bishop Christopher ChessunThe Festival of Christmas is for Christians a time to celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ and to give thanks for all that he means to us. At Christmas we rejoice in the Word of God becoming flesh and living among us full of grace and truth. By and through the incarnation the glory of God is made manifest in the world.
The Christmas season is as we all know a time for the giving and receiving of gifts. This year the Archbishop of Canterbury has encouraged everyone to be realistic about how much they spend on gifts in order that we might also make donations of food to our local Food Banks and consider the needs of those struggling to feed their families.
In reflecting on this it is important to remember that for many individuals and families Christmas is no different to the rest of the year. For individuals and families in poverty or with low incomes there is the constant problem of financial hardship. Christmas is a time that they will feel even more cut off from the wider community.
Over recent years we have seen a rise in the number of people falling into poverty. The most visible response to this has been the rise in the number of Food Banks across the Diocese offering short term support in providing the basic necessities of life. This has also extended the hand of friendship and fellowship through networks of local Christians working joyfully together in many places.
Alongside the provision of food is the day to day reality for many people of living with increasing debt, due to cuts in income and higher living costs. The recourse to short term solutions associated with ‘Pay Day Loans’ and the cheap credit that is so easily available on the High Street is a challenge to all of us and holds a mirror to society. We might not like what we see.
The work of Credit Unions in this context is a real blessing in helping debt to be managed responsibly and fairly, offering a lifeline to those caught in the debt trap. It is not always recognised that many of our Credit Unions were started by local churches. The Roman Catholic Church played an important role in the early days of their creation. On my recent visit to join London Mutual Credit Union at its Peckham Branch I was glad to discover that many of the staff and senior officers were active members of a great cross section of local churches and denominations, including a Church Warden from Abbey Wood leading an audit team.
Christmas is a time of celebration for Christians as we celebrate the birth of the Saviour and give thanks that in his life and ministry he had a particular commitment to the poor. Through supporting the work of our local ‘Food Banks’ and ‘Credit Unions’ we are able to make a difference and to share in practical support for those who in our day and local communities are most in need. For the love of God, manifested in Jesus Christ our Lord and Saviour, is a gift that is freely given. May we all know and share this gift generously in the coming days.