Hope into Action: A 21st century model for unleashing the Church’s financial potential

Hope into ActionOver the last few months my church has begun working with the charity Hope into Action. It is a relatively new charity having been set up just four years ago by Ed Walker, who previously had worked as a programme director in Africa for Tearfund then for the YMCA. However it has already won the Evangelical Alliance Serve Award for the most inspiring project in the 2012 Inspire Awards and the Centre for Social Justice award 2013 for offering individuals long-term solutions and a second chance in life, regardless of background.

One day while playing with his daughter at a park in Peterborough, Ed met a man who had been released from prison that morning. With only a few pounds in his pocket and nowhere to go, the man had spent his money on alcohol and was facing a bleak future. Frustrated that such an immediate need was going unmet, Ed decided to encourage churches to respond. From this need, Hope into Action was ultimately founded in 2010.

Hope into Action provides houses for the homeless in partnership with local churches. It trains and enables churches to engage with and mentor those living in the house, whilst providing the necessary professional support. Its vision is for every church to support at least two people in a vulnerable situation (eg ex-offenders or homeless), in suitable and quality accommodation allowing them to rebuild their lives effectively.

We have been thoroughly impressed by the work Ed and Hope into Action are doing and I’ve asked him to contribute to the site. This is his article:

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Hope into Action are trying to use investment capital more directly for purposes of the kingdom of God and in so doing promote a new form of Christian wealth management. We would love to see Christian investment, currently dammed up, flowing into social action that builds up the church.

The Bible uses words like ‘give to’ but it also uses words like ‘share.’ The current paradigm and culture in our churches is to give away 10 per cent of our earnings to a good cause – to God – and save or spend the rest elsewhere. Hope into Action are saying that for those who have savings or an investment portfolio why not ‘share’ your money with the poor by investing in a house?

Jesus told a parable about a man who stored his wealth in barns. He said to the person who did so, ‘You fool!’ Currently Christians have millions of pounds ‘stored up in barns (banks, stocks, shares)’. The church also has billions stored up in barns. Would Jesus think this wise? We want to encourage Christians to ‘share’ their money with the poor.

The parable of the talents immediately precedes the verses about ‘when I was hungry you fed me, in prison you visited me, etc.’ (Matthew 25). Jesus linked money and values. We are giving people a way they can do the same.

So what Hope into Action are doing is saying that as part of your investment portfolio please invest also in the poor. This model fulfils so much of what Jesus spoke about money: We are giving people a way they can fulfil the parable of the talents, serve the poor, build up the church, build up their riches in heaven, provide the poor wanderer with shelter and get away from storing money in barns all in one stroke.

This is how it works:

  1. Using the investment capacity of the church, one house is bought in a reasonable area of their community. (A deposit and a mortgage is required, though you can purchase the house outright.)
  2. The house is used to support 2 people in a vulnerable situation.
  3. The rent/ housing benefit pays a return on the investment.
  4. The Hope into Action provides: the professional support (referrals, needs assessments, key working, sign-posting, tenancy, benefits etc).
  5. The church provides: community, non-judgemental relationships, practical support and prayer.

When you put money into stocks and shares you are sharing you money with the wealthy  – how many poor stock brokers do you know? In so doing you are enabling the rich to get richer. In part this leads to a greater stretch between rich and poor and a more divided society. By putting money into homes for the homeless the poor benefit from your wealth; it leads towards a more just society. Not only that but they feel that society cares for them. One tenant said to me: “Having lived in hostels run by the state for the last 8 years, I cannot believe that someone in my community would want to buy a house for me.” Another said, “You have done more for me than my parents ever did.”

We started 4 years ago with one house in partnership with Bretton Baptist church in Peterborough. We now have 22 houses open in 6 cities and a further 4 in the pipeline. We have diverted over £2 million of investment capital to the poor. We have enabled rich Christians to wisely link their values with their money.  most recently we have opened a house where 12 people have invested £10,000  – an exciting 21st century model of ‘sharing’ based on the apostles precedent as described in Acts 2 and 4. Most importantly for us, however, each house is in partnership with a church who provide pastoral support in partnership with our professional workers. In such a way we are able to provide a holistic, professional, long-term relational approach to the poorest in our cities and towns without having to dilute the Gospel. As a result we are seeing people give up crime, come off drugs, get jobs and turn their lives around. If you want to be part of work which holistically works with some of the poorest in our society then please get in touch.

Just imagine how much money is saved by Christians in your area then think what God might be able to do with that wealth if it was undammed? If we can successfully access this seam of money, held by Christians, stored up in barns, then we might be able to see the churches, once again at the fore-front of social reform in the area of homelessness offering a more community based response to homelessness.

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Categories: Christian organisations, Church, Faith in society, Social action

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4 replies

  1. Great vision for redeeming lives and for creating and strengthening community. Tremendous business model tapping into the resources available in local Church communities and networks. So reminds me of a conversation back in university days – oh, so long ago – on the Church breaking into the housing market by pooling resources. Wish I’d had Ed’s drive to turn ideas into reality.

  2. But why does it need to be a charity that a church accesses – and then the charity does much of the work? Why is so much ‘church’ philanthropy done vicariously. As an aside, with my sociologist’s hat on, I think there are very good sociological reasons, namely we live in a highly differentiated, bureaucratic, consumer focused society and therefore ‘charity’ becomes another ‘product’ we can ‘purchase’ – ‘religion’ likewise becomes highly differentiated and vicarious – religion tends to mirror the predominant means of social and economic production in a society… It’s more of a follower, than a leader. Here we see an example of a religious service industry!

    However, with my theological hat on, I’d say ‘giving’ should be ‘sacramental’ – that is a manifestation in time and space of the Kingdom. Hence it should be relatively anonymous (cf. Matt 6:2-4) and its ‘good’ should also be for the giver as well as the receiver’s benefit. My own feeling (from considerable experience of working for faith-based organisations and from academic research in the same) is that unless philanthropy is owned and PRACTICED by a church – as part of the function of the ‘Body of Christ’ – then it quickly becomes just another organisation spirally off into a distant and elliptical orbit – forgotten about until the tentative connection makes good copy or can presented as ‘evidence’ of religion’s social benefits. And while it may do ‘good’ in the objective sense of the word, it doesn’t necessarily fulfil its eschatological purpose. Giving should be prophetic, in the true sense of the word: if we believe the Incarnation, death and resurrection of Jesus and the Foundation of the Church by the Holy Spirit is God’s purpose in time and space wrought in the tangible, then likewise any function of the church should likewise seek to be a tangible manifestation of the Kingdom. It should be costly, it should be humble, it should be challenging and it must not labour to seek rewards – from either men or God: obedient, just getting on with it – and certainly not self-glorifying.

    There is a good deal of this goes on – but there is an awful lot of trumpet blowing too. However the scheme sounds interesting – and I think there have to be safeguards for regular church goers when working with vulnerable people which this organisation appears to be providing (as I write I’ve just glanced at the white line on my right palm, a knife scar from working in a homeless centre… – and I’ve also seen the harm ‘do-gooders’ can do interfering in matters that are beyond them).

    I was very impressed on a recent visit to Coventry, to see one of the Jesus Army’s ‘Jesus Centres’. They are funded and staffed by the church (paid and unpaid), they ask nothing from the state (see: http://covjc.co.uk/literature/CJCAnnualReview2013.pdf) and have actually used the wealth of the church to better the lives of others, particularly via the centre’s ‘Bond Scheme’, where it lends homeless people money to get into privately rented housing and then supports the tenancies thereafter (as someone who has worked with homeless people this ‘support’ is vital – you can give many homeless people the keys to a lovely new flat, but I can assure you many will be back on the streets within a few months – the reasons for homelessness are not just linked to social inequalities and social policy!).

    I must confess, some aspects of the Jesus Army’s theology and practice doesn’t sit easily with me (and I found attending a service painful – give me the English Hymnal and the BCP anyday!). But I think their template of social action has a lot to teach the wider church. See: http://www.jesuscentre.org.uk/ for one near you!

    But I will also look out for Hope in Action. It looks interesting…

    • Su, if you are interested then you should discuss the work of Hope into Action with them.

      As to why a Charity does much of the work, because there are very few Churches that have the professional skills available to support vulnerable people, deal with Social Services, the Prison Service, Housing Benefit and the whole rigmarole around the legal issues of supporting vulnerable people.

      What HIA does is connect Churches, Christians who have capital (who may be one and the same) and the vulnerable and give them a structure which helps them to work together for the benefit of the vulnerable person in a way that would be almost impossible for a Church on it’s own.

      A disclaimer. I volunteer for HIA in their accounts department. If you have ever had to reconcile Housing Benefit then you will know that alone would put most Churches off 🙂

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