Each Tuesday morning, Verna meets with church members who share hispredicament. They've all been laid off -- mostly from high-tech jobs --and are eager to share ideas. They have helped each other updateresumes, practice interview skills and polish professional images, allwhile offering each other emotional and spiritual support.
"It seemed logical," said Verna, a member of St. Michael CatholicChurch in Cary, N.C. "Eighty percent of all jobs now are throughnetworking. If we can network through our own church, there are a wealthof people we can tap."
As companies such as Alcatel, Cisco Systems and Nortel downsize, andas the economy drifts closer to a recession, churches are finding thatmore of their members are out of work. In North Carolina's Triangleregion, about 22,100 people were out of work in August. Increasingly,churches are responding to their plight. Some, like St. Michael, haveset up weekly support groups. Others have offered job training seminars,or a room equipped with a phone and high-speed Internet connection.
Since so many of those laid off in the Triangle have beenwhite-collar professionals, the church support groups tend to be made upof people with similar career paths. These groups consist ofself-motivated suburbanites. They typically include at least one or twowith group leadership experience. And invariably they organize aListserv, a commercial electronic mailing list management system, toexchange ideas.
St. Michael, a suburban parish of about 5,000 families, has beenparticularly hard-hit. Although church officials don't know how manypeople are out of work, they estimate it's in the hundreds. About 90 ofthose people have used the Internet Listserv. Others have participatedin its evening job seminar series or Tuesday morning support group.
Service groups such as Catholic Parish Outreach, a nonprofitorganization, say they have already seen increases of 25 percent to 30percent in the number of people asking for food. Catholic ParishOutreach gives each family a box containing 30 pounds of food, diapersand toiletries.
One small North Raleigh church, Northview Community, has decided topour its energy into helping the 2,400 Midway Airlines employees wholost their jobs when the Durham-based company ceased operations the dayafter the terrorist attacks.
Its pastor, the Rev. Derrick Lemons, worked part time as a ticketagent at Midway. After the airline folded, he organized a worshipservice that drew 80 former co-workers.
Northview Community co-sponsored a two-day employment seminar atWake Tech's Business and Industry Center. And two weeks ago, churchmembers held a yard sale and donated the proceeds--about $1,000--toMidway families struggling to pay their utility bills.
"Living in a postmodern world, the church has lost touch with manypeople," Lemons said. "People don't even think of it as offering helpduring tough times. It's been uplifting to see how much the church cando. It's a confirmation that the church does have a place in helpingpeople with practical needs."
Several Midway employees said they were touched. "I felt very aloneand isolated," said Jenny Stovall of Raleigh, a former customer servicemanager. "For someone to reach out, it was a feeling that we hadn't beenforgotten."
Churches can do even more.
A jobs consultant said unemployed people can benefit enormously byhaving a spiritual discipline. A daily regimen that includes meditation,prayer or worship can help people deal with uncertainty and give themroom to contemplate the next step.
"I'm saying treasure, value and enjoy the ambiguity and theprocess," said William Carver of Nashville, a human resources consultantand the author of "The Job Hunter's Spiritual Companion." "It helps usget to a more peaceful place, and it keeps us open to the possibilitiesthat will be presented through that process."
In most of these support groups, the ordained minister's role issmall. Participants "minister to one another," said the Rev. Anne Ahl,associate minister at Apex United Methodist Church, which organized asupport group in August.
Christine O'Loughlin of Cary, a member of the St. Michael group, hasfound that to be true.
"Sometimes we think we need to do this alone," said O'Loughlin, whois looking for a job in communications or writing. "We have a fear ofadmitting we're not working. I swallowed hard and decided it can donothing but help me. All these people are going through this at the sametime. There are pointers all over the place."