From the Worldwide Faith News archives

Church programs offer spiritual, career help to jobless

From "NewsDesk" <NewsDesk@UMCOM.ORG>
Date Tue, 7 Jan 2003 15:02:21 -0600

Jan. 7, 2003  News media contact: Tim Tanton7(615)742-54707Nashville, Tenn. 

NOTE: Photographs and a sidebar, UMNS story #006, are available with this

A UMNS Feature
By Amy Green*

David Casteel never believed he still would be without a job more than a year
after deciding to give up his Houston law practice.

Newly married with plans for children, Casteel was confident he could easily
find a job with the steady salary and benefits his new family would need. But
soon his confidence - and savings - was running out, and he sought a boost to
his networking skills and his spirits.

Casteel is among a growing number of job seekers who are finding what they
need at church, in programs mixing resume help with the reassurance that
although the U.S. economy might make it appear the odds are against them,
their faith is working for them.

"It's given me the confidence of not feeling ashamed of being unemployed,"
says Casteel, 41, who rarely misses a job search session at St. Luke's United
Methodist Church. "It helps to make us feel like ... it's not our fault, that
we're not bad people for not having a job."

Across the country, more churches are organizing support groups and seminars
teaching the basics of finding a job, from how to present yourself in an
interview to how to scan the want ads. Some churches provide a place for the
unemployed to use a phone or computer. A few United Methodist churches have
helped families pay their bills.

Some of the new ministries have started in response to recent layoffs. Others
have been around for years and are swamped. The 7,500-member St. Luke's was
ready to scrap its job search sessions two years ago for lack of interest.
The sessions now draw up to 70 job seekers weekly.

The skills these programs teach are important, says John Challenger of the
Chicago outplacement firm Challenger, Gray and Christmas, but the emotional
support they provide is crucial to someone struggling to find a job.

"When someone becomes discouraged, it makes it very hard to go out and be
positive and upbeat and put up enough energy to find possibilities," he says.
"So a person's state of mind ... is critical to keeping the duration of
unemployment down."

Crossroads Career Network, a nonprofit organization based outside Atlanta,
helps churches organize such programs. It has worked with 27 congregations in
recent years and expects to expand to 75 by the end of 2003. Executive
director Jane Fadgen says the organization has been flooded with requests for
help from pastors intrigued by this new way to reach out to their communities
and get more church members involved.

In Oregon, where unemployment rates have been among the nation's worst,
United Methodist leaders in Portland have agreed to offer $500 grants to help
their churches assist the jobless. The state's unemployment rate was at 7
percent in October, down from 8.1 percent in January and February.

"The purpose for this thing is to get churches to sit down and ask, 'What can
we do?'" says grant committee chairman Al Rieki. "People are leaving Oregon
to find jobs. People are accepting much lower-paying jobs than they had
before. Our food banks are having an increased demand for emergency food and
clothing services. We have more people now who don't have medical insurance."

The 5,000-member Brentwood United Methodist Church in the Nashville, Tenn.,
area advertises its program in local newspapers, hoping to attract the
unemployed who might not attend church regularly. The church aims to change
that by nurturing jobless people through this difficult time, says Ross
Rainwater, who got involved in the program while looking for a job in the
early 1990s.

At St. Luke's, the Rev. Linda Christians includes in each session a promise
that she will pray for everyone in attendance. Some are so moved by that sort
of support they keep coming back, even after finding a job, to support others
who are still looking, she says.

"It gives them hope," she says. "And when they're discouraged and down, they
still can cling to the knowledge that they are not alone, that God will see
them through."

Yet many job seekers, embarrassed of their predicament, turn to the church
only as a last option, frets Mark Harrison, a United Methodist Board of
Church and Society executive who staffs the Concern for Workers Task Force.
That puts even more pressure on pastors to reach out as the economy continues
to sag. 

Pastors needing support for such ministries can apply for grants through the
denomination's Peace with Justice program at either the board or annual
conference level. Information about the program is available at the Board of
Church and Society's Web site,

The nation's unemployment rate remained virtually unchanged at 6 percent in
November, according to the U.S. Labor Department, but the number of those
without jobs for six months or more hit 1.7 million - up 56 percent from a
year ago. Corporate malfeasance concerns, weak stock prices and rising
international tensions all have prevented economic recovery.

"It feels like the economy is kind of stuck in neutral gear right now, which
is going to mean downsizing will be heavy," Challenger says.

That is of no comfort to job seekers like Casteel. But he has been so
encouraged by St. Luke's job search sessions that he will take over as the
group's lay chairman in January. 
He appreciates the networking help he has received and, as a longtime
attorney, enjoys helping others. He believes mixing faith with job search
assistance makes sense.

Says Casteel: "Helping people in need is what church is all about."

# # #

*Green is a free-lance writer in Nashville, Tenn. She formerly covered
religion for the Associated Press.

United Methodist News Service
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