Church leaders in England and Scotland mark International Credit Union Day

The Archbishop of Canterbury previously told the payday lender Wonga that the Church of England wanted to "compete" it out of existence as part of its plans to expand credit unions as an alternative to payday lenders(PA)

Church leaders in England and Scotland are championing their local credit unions today.

Marking International Credit Union Day on Thursday, the bishops are encouraging churches to support credit unions as an ethical and affordable alternative to payday loans.

Spearheading the cause is the Archbishop of Canterbury, who has posted a special message to Instagram urging churches and communities to support their local credit union.

Archbishop Welby said: "Let's begin to make a difference to how families can finance themselves in this country – join and support a credit union."

His comments echo a personal letter sent by the Archbishop to all clergy in which he points out the risk to hard-up families of falling into further debt.

"Our faith in Christ calls us to love the poor and vulnerable with our actions. That is why the Church must be actively involved in supporting the development of real lending alternatives, such as credit unions," he says, in what is his first Instagram message.

The Reverend Dr Malcolm Brown, director of the Church of England's Mission and Public Affairs Division said: "The credit union sector is extremely well placed to offer real choice about how people manage their money.

"Credit unions aren't just for hard pressed communities – all sorts of people could use credit unions to save and to take out loans at manageable interest rates.

"Archbishop Justin is calling on churches all over the country to work with their local credit unions – and the Church of England is working with the Church of Scotland so that our response runs, literally, from Lands End to John O'Groats.

"We welcome the continuing support of the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Church of England for credit unions. With the wide community reach of the organisation, and the skills within its congregations, the Church can help raise awareness of the benefits of credit unions and help them to grow."

To coincide with International Credit Union Day, the Bishop of Dover, the Right Reverend Trevor Willmott, is launching a new community investment account and volunteer training scheme. The bishop is part of the Diocese of Canterbury, which is partnering with the Kent Savers CU to run local branches in churches.

The Bishop of Ludlow, Alistair Magowan, is paying a visit to the Sutton Hill CU in Telford where he will meet people involved in its running.

In the Diocese of Oxford, the Bishop of Oxford, the Right Reverend John Pritchard, the Bishop of Dorchester, the Right Reverend Colin Fletcher and the Bishop of Buckingham, the Right Reverend Alan Wilson will be signing up to their local credit union.

Southwell and Nottingham Diocese is launching a new ethical saving initiative called '25 x 5k', which allows organisations to join in local credit unions by opening a corporate savings account.

The Bishop of Southwell and Nottingham, the Right Reverend Paul Butler, will visit Nottingham Credit Union where he will give £5,000 towards its lending fund. Later he will visit the 2 Shires Credit Union in Worksop and open a savings account with a further £5,000.

Mark Lyonette, Chief Executive of the Association of British Credit Unions (ABCUL), welcomed the support of the Archbishop and the Church of England.

"With the wide community reach of the organisation, and the skills within its congregations, the Church can help raise awareness of the benefits of credit unions and help them to grow," he said.

Barbara Hann, Chief Executive of ACE Credit Union Services, said: "Over the years credit unions have often been described as the best kept secret, since so few people seem to have heard of them.

"The Archbishop's intervention has overturned this, focussing everyone's attention on the important role of credit unions in society – they provide a caring financial service, with low charge, that benefits all levels of society.

"Churches can support local credit unions by encouraging people to open an account and to volunteer to help run one."