Black Pentecostal credit union celebrates 35 years

05 June 2015

In credit: Shane Bowes, the manager of the credit union

In credit: Shane Bowes, the manager of the credit union

A CREDIT union started for Black Pentecostal churches more than three decades ago is to celebrate its 35th anniversary with a dinner and concert at Wandsworth Town Hall.

The Pentecostal Credit Union (PCU), which has more than 1500 members, was started in 1980 by the Revd Carmel Jones, out of a small back room in Balham, to serve members of Black Pentecostal churches.

Today, its members have saved £7.5 million, and the credit union has a loan book worth £4.7 million. Gospel choirs, comedians, and singers will help the credit union to celebrate its 35th anniversary tomorrow in Wandsworth.

Mr Jones began the credit union because of the difficulty that black people often had in getting loans from mainstream banks. A number of prominent Pentecostal churches, including Ruach Ministries, in Brixton, bought their buildings with loans from the PCU.

Three years ago, however, the PCU was thrown into disarray when it was revealed that Mr Jones had issued loans worth £1.2 million, purportedly to its members, but had actually channelled the money towards an unnamed church.

The Financial Services Authority (FSA) said that it had written to Mr Jones in 2006, explaining that such a scheme was unlawful for a credit union to pursue, but he continued making at least 20 such loans to individual members - ranging from £7500 to £87,500 - that were actually given to the church.

The FSA, in its 2012 ruling, said that Mr Jones had demonstrated a "lack of integrity", and, if he had not been a disabled pensioner of limited means, it would have fined him £60,000.

The PCU co-operated with the inquiry, and, after the ruling, brought in new management to run the institution, which remained financially solvent despite more than half of the £1.2-million loan's not being repaid after the church fell out with the credit union.

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The current manager of the PCU, Shane Bowes, said: "I'm excited about the forthcoming PCU 35th anniversary celebrations. We'll reflect on the achievements of the past, but also look to the future, and enjoy some great entertainment.

"It's an honour to walk in the path trailed by Mr Jones, and it's my desire to introduce the PCU's many services to a new generation of young people, in order to help them access loans to set up businesses, and achieve their financial goals through using our services."

Credit unions spread. The Archbishop of Canterbury's drive to promote responsible lending continues, as the network of "credit champions" expands into London. The Centre for Theology and Community, which is organising the Church Credit Champions Network (News, 30 May 2014), is advertising for someone to co-ordinate encouraging credit unions in the diocese of London.

One year after the scheme was launched, 119 clergy and lay people have been trained as credit champions, and 600 have joined a local credit union as a result of the campaign. One church, St Mary's, Primrose Hill, in north London, managed to sign up 50 people (more than one third of the congregation) to a credit union after putting on an event to discuss money.

Last month, Archbishop Welby became the first patron of the debt-counselling charity Christians Against Poverty (CAP). In a video message to mark his appointment, he said: "CAP deals in helping people to get free of the prison of debt, and it's something I feel passionately about."

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