With the impending energy crisis, this winter, one suggestion that is gathering pace is for churches, libraries, community centres etc to provide places where people can go during the day to keep warm. Just as we had food banks, so too, we can provide “warm banks,” Some Councils such as Birmingham are even beginning to talk about providing maps to show where people might be able to go.
It sounds at first like a good idea, just like offering foodbanks. Now, my own experience was that once our church got involved with the food bank initiative we realised that there were huge questions about whether this was the best way to help or whether it might even be hurting.
So, I’m sorry to be the one asking the awkward question but perhaps it would be best if we raised the question early before we go too far down this route. Here are a couple of sobering truths that we need to remember.
- The fuel bills for these public venues are also going to go up exponentially. If your heating bill at home could be topping £5000 by the Spring consider what that means for your church? Their bill might be up at around £30,000 plus. Can the church afford that?
- Many of these churches and public institutions are already struggling financially following the pandemic and after a tough decade of austerity.
- Many of these large public buildings are inefficient to heat.
Now, the principle that we should share what we have with those who don’t is important. The idea that we find ways to look after one another this winter is important too. However, the risk with something like this is that we don’t think about how we care for one another so much as we hope that an institution somewhere will carry the cost and forget that an institution is dependent on individuals contributing into it whether through taxes, tithes or purchases.
Sadly, there are already stories of businesses reducing hours because they cannot afford to keep the lights on. Others will reduce down still further and some will close permanently this winter when they find that they cannot afford to keep those places warm (and they’ll have to work to statutory requirements). Indeed our public libraries may be at risk.
So, first of all before your church makes a pledge, count the cost. Will you be able to follow through? Are the church members able to meet the additional costs coming? Indeed, you need to be having that difficult conversation as a church family in any case. The bills are going to go up, the pastor and other employees are going to be facing pressures on their ability to make ends meet. The hardship fund is going to be in greater demand. Is your church prepared?
Then the next question is whether or not this is the most effective way of doing things. Incidentally, remember that the point of a normal bank is not that I go and sit in it among all of the money. Instead, I withdraw money to use in my day to day life.
So, are there ways in which your church can help to connect people up in neighbourhoods? Are there people in the church family who will be able to manage this winter? Are there others who might really struggle. Can you pair them up? Is there an older person on your street or a family on universal credits who might be sitting at home in the cold to save money. Could they come round and spend the day at your house. Could two families share the cost of fuel bills whilst teaming up in the day time -like lift shares?
I suspect that our solutions will need to be even smaller, even more local and even more flexible. I am also concerned that as yet, we still haven’t fully grasped how big the crisis is that is coming.