The Values of Money: The Uses of Money
by The Revd Andrew Studdert-Kennedy
Posted: 26 May 2011
Not long after the collapse of Lehman Brothers in 2008, I was conducting the funeral of a 96 year old man who had had a prominent position in the then local Ramsbury Building Society. The person giving the main tribute told the congregation how he had secured the loan for his first mortgage. Bicycling the six miles from Marlborough to Ramsbury in his lunch hour, he met the manager in question who assessed his prospects and agreed to help him buy his first house.
Of course such a story conjures up an image of a lost world, but at the time when we were all feeling bamboozled by banks and bewildered by the sheer scale of their losses, this simple illustration had a profound effect on me. For it reminded me of the social utility of banking and the creative uses to which money can rightly be put. In short it reminded me of what Banks and Building Societies are for - at least in part.
Like so many others, I watched the collapse of the banks and subsequent economic crisis with an uneasy mixture of incomprehension and frustration. For here was a series of events of huge magnitude affecting everyone in our parishes, but on which I, and I suspect most clergy, were insufficiently qualified to comment.
It was tempting to vilify not just the bankers themselves but the whole system which had come crashing down, but I have always felt uneasy about solely negative remarks which don't offer some alternative line of action. But what might an alternative look like?
The striking thing in 2008/9 was that no one seemed to know! Indeed the medicine that was being prescribed to get us out of the mess seemed to be the same as the potion that had led us into it in the first place - namely to get borrowing, consumption and growth going again.
This left me with the overriding wish to try and learn more about our economy and our banking system to see if there were ways in which the Christian tradition might contribute to a debate about what could be learnt from past mistakes. And also to see what we needed to learn ourselves.
I was aware that there are others who are already working at this, but a period of Extended Ministerial Development Leave, has offered me the chance to explore this for myself. It has also given me the opportunity to get back in touch with university friends who are working in the City, some with striking degrees of success.
So I have
set myself the task of exploring these issues through a variety of
conversations with people who work in the Financial Services Industry. But
first I had to find the right way of approaching them...
The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author, and do not necessarily represent the views of St Paul's Institute or St Paul's Cathedral.