Extending a financial lifeline, Episcopal Church credit union launches in the Bronx

The Rev. Winnie Varghese, who was instrumental in forming the credit union. Photo/Trinity Wall Street

By Meagan Saliashvili

Religion News Service

Nine years ago, when Diocese of New York Bishop Andrew Dietsche invited the Rev. Winnie Varghese to chair the diocese’s social concerns committee, she agreed — on the condition that she could found a credit union.

Varghese had attended seminary in the Diocese of Los Angeles when leaders there established a credit union after civil unrest and market crashes in the 1990s had contributed to economic hardship in the city. She saw how credit unions, which are non-profits owned and indirectly governed by those who bank with them, offer higher savings rates, lower interest on loans and easier access to credit.

A decade earlier, in 2003 and 2004, church leaders had discussed the idea but ultimately decided it wasn’t feasible. The diocese instead continued offering short-term loans to people in the community.

“That was really useful in our migrant communities and in poor communities,” Varghese told Religion News Service. “But you can imagine the limitations of that. You’re trying to get money together in this pool, and then, you know, none of us wants to have to enforce loan management from a committee in a church towards vulnerable people.”

Varghese, who also became director of community outreach at Trinity Church Wall Street, the historic church in Manhattan’s financial district, revived the credit union idea, enlisting her parish and the diocese in the cause.

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