Earlier this month we celebrated Labor Day in the United States. It is a holiday that was first celebrated in 1882 and became a national holiday in 1894. Labor Day is a time to remember the economic and social contributions of workers, and challenge us to minister to those without work or struggling for justice in their workplace.
We know that the national unemployment average is 8.1%; it is 7.3% in Arkansas. But, that does not put a face on the people who lie behind those figures. It does not aid us in understanding the loss of self-worth when one is made unemployed after many years with a company. It does not put a face on the families trying to cope with making payments on their homes and facing foreclosure in many cases.
The church needs to connect policies related to statistics on unemployment with outreach to real people and families behind the figures.
Meet Gordon, one of many who have lost their jobs. He is a member of Trinity United Methodist Church in Little Rock, Ark. Gordon was laid off a job he had held for over 20 years. It happened very suddenly and without warning. One day he was preparing for a promotion, and the next he faced unemployment.
Gordon talks about the pain of losing his sense of self-worth and dignity.
Gordon talks about the pain of losing his sense of self-worth and dignity. At first, there was a time of anger at the situation. Then the feelings of lack of self-esteem set in to daily life. These became stronger as time went on and no job was on the horizon. Also, a sense of doubt about whether there was full-time employment out there for him began to creep in.
At one point, Gordon turned to his church and made a request. He asked for some type of program to assist those looking for work. He felt that practical issues needed to be addressed as well as the spiritual needs of the person.
Gordon’s sister’s church in Atlanta had run that type of program. Participants had found it helpful.
Gordon’s pastor, the Rev. Betsy Singleton-Snyder, agreed to his request and the church’s Miracle Committee, led by Cynthia Crone, set out to develop the program. Its first five-week session was in April this year.
The program is led by the Rev. David Deere, a United Methodist and a licensed social worker. The class examined the support that scripture offers and allowed participants an opportunity to discuss many of the life issues surrounding losing a job. The class also offered assistance from local church members on resume writing and development, interview techniques and filing for unemployment benefits.
There are plans to have another session this fall and to include other local churches.
Substance abuse issues
Due to the efforts of a local United Methodist congregation, many people seeking employment will have the opportunity to be supported by their local church. But, this is just one opportunity for churches in Arkansas to engage in assisting with the unemployed.
In the Little Rock urban area, a partnership is being developed with Better Community Development (BCD) at Theresa Hoover United Methodist Church and other congregations. BCD works with people who face substance abuse issues and are thus unable to find employment. BCD has a substantial program of training and rehabilitation.
Participants go through a program called Jobs for Life. The program gives participants necessary tools to be employed. After completion of the training program, they are then recommended for employment.
BCD is working with local United Methodist churches to encourage employers within their congregations to enter into agreements to consider hiring the participants. United Methodist congregations have many individuals who own businesses or are in positions that give them the ability to hire employees.
The program will develop a relationship with an employer and the person who is being hired with the assistance of the case manager at Better Community Development to aid the transition to employment.
We are invited to celebrate and protect the worth and dignity of human labor as an integral part of Christian discipleship and mission. The faith community realizes that it has a role to play in the current unemployment situation in the United States. We hope and pray that those unemployed/underemployed in our communities will not be forgotten.
In Little Rock, thanks to the work of Trinity UMC and Better Community Development’s Jobs for Life program, they will not be.