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United Methodists offer job seekers hope

 
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2:00 P.M. EST February 11, 2011



Job seekers and volunteers network during The Career Transition Group held at Brentwood (Tenn.) United Methodist Church. The group has been meeting for 21 years. UMNS web-only photo by Jonathan Wentworth.
Job seekers and volunteers network during The Career Transition Group held at Brentwood (Tenn.) United Methodist Church. The group has been meeting for 21 years. UMNS web-only photo by Jonathan Wentworth.

Steve Bass was a construction executive with a six-figure income. But then his company ran out of projects. Because Bass was the last hired, he was the first to go.

Today he earns minimum wage at a Sears in Kansas and rehabilitates inner-city houses for investors.

With the U.S. unemployment rate at 9 percent, many people are finding themselves wandering “in the wilderness” in need of employment — and direction. And, like Bass, many turn to the church for help and hope.

United Methodist congregations across the country are responding to that need with a range of services including support, advice and prayer.

In Leawood, Kan., the Church of the Resurrection’s two-year-old employment and financial ministry proved a blessing to Bass. The program serves 275 to 300 people annually. Unlike Bass, about 20 percent have no relationship with the church.

Components include a monthly job club with guest speakers and a weekly job-seekers' prayer and support group. An online board lists openings from the community and from employers connected with the congregation.

“We have a stable of about 30 job-search coaches who offer one-on-one coaching about resume development, interviewing and the use of social media and networking,” said the Rev. Russell Brown, pastor of support ministries.

The newest component of the program will provide free labor for a range of auto repairs for people who are out of work or struggling financially and depend on a car for job hunting or work, he added.

Bass has only good things to say about the ministry.

“Any kind of jobs program churches can put together is extremely valuable,” he said. “It is a huge opportunity for the church to be involved with the community, to witness to people in need and to help people rebuild their lives.”

Faith connection important

Every Thursday morning in Southlake, Texas, 300 to 400 job seekers gather at White’s Chapel United Methodist Church “to develop contacts within specific companies or fields of work,” said volunteer Fred Gehring, a financial adviser.



Bobby Williams (right) counsels a client through a program sponsored by Trinity United Methodist Church, Denver. The program teaches job skills, resume writing and interview techniques. A UMNS 2006 file photo by Allysa Adams.
Bobby Williams (right) counsels a client through a program sponsored by Trinity United Methodist Church, Denver. The program teaches job skills, resume writing and interview techniques. A UMNS 2006 file photo by Allysa Adams.
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While membership is free, regular attendance is required before job seekers can access the group’s website, which includes job leads, contacts and articles that offer advice. The nondenominational group welcomes anyone who is unemployed, unhappily employed or under-employed.

“Since we have about 50 new members each week,” Gehring said, “I would estimate we serve (more than) 3,000 individuals in a given year.” Last year, 550 job seekers reported finding work through the program.

Participant Darien Beatty praised the ministry.

“One of the key things that set this program apart is the faith-reliance aspect. The opening prayer was of particular importance to me in this job search. I was able to get focused, targeting information necessary to keep my resume and interviewing skills current and allowing me to secure my new position.”

Another large congregation — First United Methodist Church in Hurst, Texas — offers the NETWorkers career-support group.

Participants explore educational opportunities, personality and capabilities testing and various job-hunting skills. They also receive financial counseling, discuss physical and spiritual nurturing and work with job recruiters.

Former job seeker Prem Babbili benefited from NETWorkers.

“The meetings were morale boosting, and I felt very encouraged and motivated,” he said. “The mock interviews gave me tremendous confidence and helped me prepare better for the actual interviews.”

Job fairs and listening ears

At First United Methodist Church in Newnan, Ga., a job-networking ministry has reached out for seven years. It serves about 400 people a year.

Meetings are open to the community, co-facilitator Billy Arnall said. People from other congregations come to the meetings “to get an idea of what we do, so they can start something like ours at their churches.”

In Memphis, Tenn., Raleigh United Methodist Church has provided two job fairs featuring multiple companies. More than 800 people from 52 ZIP codes attended each event. Participants honed such skills as completing job applications, interviewing and writing resumes.

The congregation also operates a job-placement office two mornings a week and offers free classes in basic computer skills, Microsoft Word and Microsoft Excel.

“Everyone who comes through our program is guaranteed a listening ear, a caring heart and a bit of hope,” said Rita Jones, outreach chair. “More than 100 people have found employment."

‘Growing into a servant leader’

In Canton, Ga., Fields Chapel United Methodist Church kicked off 2011 with a new faith-based job ministry, “Weathering the Storm,” to help unemployed and underemployed people.

The initial event — a one-day workshop — covered “everything needed to mount an effective job search,” a press release said. A certified volunteer facilitator provided leadership. Biweekly support group meetings supplement the sessions. Fields Chapel has 115 members.

Back at the Church of the Resurrection in Kansas, former construction executive Bass views his time of unemployment as an “internship” to discover he does not really work for humanity, but for God.

“God has different definitions of success and expectations in terms of ‘performance measures,’” Brown, the support-ministries pastor, said. “This ‘wilderness time’ fundamentally changed who Steve is and how he sees his relationship with God as well as his life's purpose.

“He feels he is growing into the heart now of a servant leader, learning to receive when he was accustomed to being the giver,” Brown said.

Bass’s new vision is serving inner-city people with his skills, and he is launching a company focused on making affordable housing available to low-income families. Part of his goal is to reemploy and use people in the construction industries, which have been especially hard hit.

That dream “may die,” Bass acknowledged, “but I’m trying to keep it alive.”

*Dunlap-Berg is internal content editor for United Methodist Communications.

News media contact: Barbara Dunlap-Berg, Nashville, Tenn., (615) 742-5489 or newsdesk@umcom.org.

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