For the last 18 months, Theo Shaw has been working for us here at CTC, running the Church Credit Champions Network in Southwark Diocese. She’s moving onto a new opportunity so as she leaves we decided to talk to her about how it’s been to get churches thinking and talking about credit, debt and money in general…
Can you describe what your role for CTC has been?
I work as the Network Coordinator. My patch covers the Diocese of Southwark. It’s a pilot project covering London, Liverpool and Southwark. I encourage churches to engage with money and debt and help them act on the issues.
We connect with churches, and begin by encouraging them to do a listening process – a Money Talk – to get them talking to each other about the issues affecting them. But the money talks are bigger than just money. They bring up a whole range of connected issues – jobs, employment, housing… we should call them “Let’s talk!”
Then I help churches connect the recurring themes they’ve heard with an action that the church can take. It’s all just a suggestion – it’s up to the leaders and members of the church what they actually do.
Can you share a story from your work?
Part of the job is bigger than you working 9-5. You work weekends and evenings because Money Talks are often part of a church service.
After three evenings working straight, I woke up on Sunday thinking, “Oh Lord, I just want to sleep!” I got dressed and went to the service whinging about how tired I was. After the service, during the tea and (really lovely) cake, one lady came up to me and thanked me. She has £15 to feed four people for a fortnight, after she pays her rent and her bills. She used to work full time but got made redundant because she was ill. It makes everything real.
That’s why I have been giving up my Sundays to help churches talk about money.
What motivates you to do this work?
My mum didn’t have a lot growing up so I know what it’s like to live in a single parent home. She had three kids, and, as with many families, she found things difficult. Every time I go into church, I imagine somebody sitting there in the congregation like my mum. If I was sitting there, how would I feel?
If you’re struggling financially and someone comes along and puts a Christian perspective on it, suddenly you realise it’s not because God’s punishing me for struggling, it’s the way that society and the economic system is structured.
The church is bringing people’s real life issues to them. There is often a disconnect between theology and everyday life. You listen to the sermon and sometimes it connects but not all the time. When we do a Money Talk it almost always connects with someone. Debt in Nehemiah’s time and debt in today’s society – it’s the same old story.
How has your work changed you?
I’ve learnt that there’s no linear model for working with churches. It’s forwards and backwards, and I am encouraging them to take the next step. But when a church does any small thing, I feel so happy about the fact that they are taking action!
Holistically what the church is trying to do is beautiful. I just want all churches to see the potential for understanding what is going on around them and how alive they really ought to be. The buildings are beautiful but I want each congregation to be aware of what’s going on around them.
How do you hope your work has changed the people and institutions you have worked with?
When you offer the idea of doing a Money Talk to a Vicar or pastor, they like it but they don’t really know what it entails. It’s not until the day, when they hear the feedback, that it becomes real and they see how much need there is to talk about this stuff.
Even low key activity is significant. Just reminding people around Christmas that getting a payday loan isn’t the way to go. Getting people listening and talking is so valuable! I had a couple of people saying that they had never spoken to the people they’ve been sitting to for twenty years. Vicars tell me that the congregations really enjoy talking to each other and want to incorporate it more in to what they do.
I’m not trying to change the world in a big way. I’d love it if I could! But I’m just playing my part.
We wish Theo all the best in the future. If you want to know more about the Church Credit Champions Network, click here.