Church Programs Aid the Newly Unemployed
Churches offer networking sessions, prayer groups, and more to help jobless members deal with uncertainty and find work.
BY: Yonat Shimron
Economists predict the worst is still to come. North Carolina's unemployment rate rose to 5.2 percent in September. With the dampening of consumer spending following the Sept. 11 terrorist strikes future numbers are expected to be even worse.
Service groups such as Catholic Parish Outreach, a nonprofit organization, say they have already seen increases of 25 percent to 30 percent in the number of people asking for food. Catholic Parish Outreach gives each family a box containing 30 pounds of food, diapers and toiletries.
One small North Raleigh church, Northview Community, has decided to pour its energy into helping the 2,400 Midway Airlines employees who lost their jobs when the Durham-based company ceased operations the day after the terrorist attacks.
Its pastor, the Rev. Derrick Lemons, worked part time as a ticket agent at Midway. After the airline folded, he organized a worship service that drew 80 former co-workers.
Northview Community co-sponsored a two-day employment seminar at Wake Tech's Business and Industry Center. And two weeks ago, church members held a yard sale and donated the proceeds--about $1,000--to Midway families struggling to pay their utility bills.
"Living in a postmodern world, the church has lost touch with many people," Lemons said. "People don't even think of it as offering help during tough times. It's been uplifting to see how much the church can do. It's a confirmation that the church does have a place in helping people with practical needs."
Several Midway employees said they were touched. "I felt very alone and isolated," said Jenny Stovall of Raleigh, a former customer service manager. "For someone to reach out, it was a feeling that we hadn't been forgotten."
Churches can do even more.
A jobs consultant said unemployed people can benefit enormously by having a spiritual discipline. A daily regimen that includes meditation, prayer or worship can help people deal with uncertainty and give them room to contemplate the next step.
"I'm saying treasure, value and enjoy the ambiguity and the process," said William Carver of Nashville, a human resources consultant and the author of "The Job Hunter's Spiritual Companion." "It helps us get to a more peaceful place, and it keeps us open to the possibilities that will be presented through that process."
In most of these support groups, the ordained minister's role is small. Participants "minister to one another," said the Rev. Anne Ahl, associate minister at Apex United Methodist Church, which organized a support group in August.
Christine O'Loughlin of Cary, a member of the St. Michael group, has found that to be true.
"Sometimes we think we need to do this alone," said O'Loughlin, who is looking for a job in communications or writing. "We have a fear of admitting we're not working. I swallowed hard and decided it can do nothing but help me. All these people are going through this at the same time. There are pointers all over the place."