Rewriting the unemployment story
by S. W. Senghor
We knew each other by sight; some of us, even by name. But we had no idea that we were each at sea, adrift on our own boats. The church community should have been a place to let our hair down and be ourselves; to come and say, “I’m struggling with this; I need help, and I need prayer.” But because six days a week we inhabit a world that prizes individualism and self-sufficiency, we were embarrassed. We were unemployed.
Late last year we began one morning, warily, by simply introducing ourselves and telling our stories at the first Meaningful Work Group (MWG) meeting formed at Christ Lutheran Church in D.C. A woman attending our church and searching for work on her own had approached our pastor. The Rev. Renata Eustis suggested giving a support group a try. How astonished we were to discover that we’d each felt bullied out of our last jobs and curiously enough found ourselves feeling unsupported by our partners or marriages. How empowering to discover we were not alone!
In community, what we’d been unable to do for ourselves we suddenly were able, with wit and wisdom, to do for each other. Inspired by Scripture passages*, we began demonstrating our belief in the outstanding talents each other offered and set about helping each other recast our own stories in a positive and powerful light.
Once we helped each other begin to see and speak of ourselves in the light of God’s plan for us, we set about helping each other rewrite each others’ resumes to reflect that story. When group members got interviews, we conducted mock practice interviews. Essentially, we became each others’ advocates, buttonholing other members of the congregation and combing through our own Rolodexes for job leads and contacts.
When that first bold member who approached the pastor relocated for her new job, she emailed:
“Please know this that it takes a village not just to raise a child but to live as an adult. We need each other. I don’t believe in suffering in silence. The Bible is full of incidents of people crying out for help and asking to be healed. So ask and find; knock and the door will be opened up to you… Without you guys, my job search and find would have been very lonely.”
I am happy to report that all of the members of our original MWG who were actively looking received offers of meaningful work. A new group of job seekers has also formed. Our Lutheran community can help us handle the challenges of today’s job market and use the gifts we have to meet those challenges.
*Verses in Matthew 5 about salt and light were especially encouraging, as was “Brag!” by author Peggy Klaus.
TIPS for starting a MWG in your church community
- Find people to meet with. Our MWG began with people the pastor knew were searching for work.
- Find a space. In the beginning, we met at church to avoid engendering the need to host or for reciprocation.
- Keep it low-maintenance. Searching for a job is taxing enough; make it as easy as possible for your fellow job seekers to participate. Time of day? Childcare? Fixed or varied schedule?
- Consider group dynamics. Require attendance or be more flexible? Consider assigning a timekeeper to make sure every member has a chance to talk about what’s going well and what’s getting him or her down. The self-managed nature of our first group – a bit chaotic – turned out to be surprisingly energizing. It egged members to take bold, uninhibited steps in their job searches that would have been way outside of their comfort zones before joining the group.
- Share responsibility. Decide how to communicate early (text, email, phone) and share contact information with each other. Pass along resources and information that members find. Tap into other support groups in your area that may be able to supply resources, information and training that a small group may not be able to sustain.
- Be encouraging, reach out for help, and celebrate successes. Make sure your congregation knows what your group is doing. Ask for their prayers and don’t hesitate to ask for their help with job leads and contacts. Tap into professional gifts in your congregation, for example asking a public relations professional to help group members see and retell their stories positively. When members have victories, let everybody know, and give praise accordingly.