On a Monday night, I go to a home group to delve deeper into Christianity and to enjoy talking about the things that sometimes get overlooked in ordinary conversation with friends from all different backgrounds. That's one of the things I love about the Church of England, that at its best, it's a meeting point that all should be welcomed to. At St Mary's we have a huge range of backgrounds, with my husband, Gary coming from a Pentecostal (Assemblies of God) church in Zimbabwe to my good friend, Dorota, who is a Polish Catholic lady. We became friends when I had to apologise profusely on behalf of my young son, who head butted her son without provocation of any kind. They came to tea and we have remained great friends ever since. Can love between friends be squashed? Not if love between friends overcomes faith background, nationality, language (though how blessed I am to be a native English speaker and have the advantage in that I have not had to struggle with Polish, Serbian, Italian, Danish or Geordie to facilitate my friendships). We both love gardening, are interested in home produce, home made crafts, art and music. I have a violin, she has some Polish folk songs and we got together with our families in their home in Yorkley in September and had a fine time leading the children in dancing around the garden and singing/ playing Dark Eyes. Fortunately, they are not overlooked too much.
But I have experienced division between friends here on Oakdale, often through hurt feelings and often through defending the young 'uns when they get involved in arguments and start fighting. These things squash love: debt, fear, depression, lack of time.
What can we do about those things? Once you are in debt, it can become a never-ending cycle. When I was a student, I had no concept about debt and although I had top marks at A level in Maths and Physics, realistically, I had no clue. That's why I am so impressed with young neighbours who have put together deposits in their twenties so that they can buy a house. It shows a discipline that I never had. Even with the limited means of a student (and I was one for 8 years), I could definitely have managed my money better.
I am so pleased that St Mary's has taken the lead in Lydney in setting up the CAP (Christians Against Poverty) Money Course, because so many people can benefit. It goes back to basics and makes no assumptions about what you know. The fundamental principles are that you have three bank accounts, divided up into one to pay direct debits and regular monthly payments, one to have as a 'cash account' from which you take a weekly amount to pay for things like food and petrol and one for savings so that things that are predictable - like for us, the mortgage continuing beyond Gary's retirement - and unpredictable - like the car breaking down - can be covered without taking out loans.
After I went on a training course, funded by the church, we started putting these things into practise. It's been a struggle and of course Christmas adds pressure, but the time it takes is well worth it for the relief in knowing that we are not lurching from one crisis to another.
Credit was easy to get in the 1990's when I was a student. I ran out of money for basics and my friends were amazed to find that I hadn't cottoned onto overdraughts yet. "But didn't you know you can get money from the bank?"
When my husband came to the UK with his first wife, they had grown up in a culture where if you didn't have the money, you couldn't spend it. There was no credit, so they had no debt, but once the offers of credit started rolling in, they quickly gave in to the growing needs of children on the verge of being teenagers and landed in a strange country, needing to make friends at school. The result is a cycle of debt that we still struggle with. We have a plan, thanks to the CAP course and should be out of debt in 4 years - sooner if I get a job as well. (Maybe I should put in my application for Asda. Or Sainsbury's.)
Once, while they were still in South Africa, Gary couldn't afford bread for them and was on Durban beach with his older children. He prayed for God to step into the situation as he longed to buy them an ice cream (and bread), then looked down at the sand and saw a pile of coins half buried in it. Jehovah Jireh - God provides - is one of the great Hebrew names for God, but as money is mentioned so many times in the Bible, you can't help but get the hint that learning to manage it well and to remain debt free is a spiritual matter that requires our close attention.
If you are interested in future courses, please check out the CAP website or contact Nick Fenby at Lydney Parish. We have rolled it out once now for members of St Mary's and Holy Trinity and having both helped to facilitate (well, make the tea anyway) and done the course, I can really recommend it. You quickly realise that there is nothing to be ashamed of, you are not alone and you can help yourself and others to get out of the prison of debt.
I read in the paper today that archaeologists have made the startling discovery that stone age people decided where to live based on security of homes and the ability to provide food for their families. Amazing. Oakdale is sited where there is evidence of bronze age and Roman dwellings, and Lydney used to be an island in a fertile river valley, which would have been a favoured location for both reasons. If you want to grow food, get in touch and lend your support for our campaign to ask for land for a community allotment. If you want a secure and happy place to live, get in touch to say you will support us in campaigning for street lighting. If you want to get out of debt, contact CAP or Lydney Parish and if you want to have saved enough not to go into debt next Christmas, go on a CAP Money Course.
"Do what you can, with what you have, where you are."