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The faces behind the numbers

by Linda Bloom
August 10, 2009

The human faces behind July’s unemployment statistics can be found at the United Methodist Board of Global Ministries.

Or could have. Among the 247,000 positions cut by U.S. employers last month, as estimated by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, were 45 positions at the mission agency. Some of those employees had opted to take a buyout, but 26 involuntarily lost their jobs.

I’m afraid they’ll take no comfort in the fact that July’s 9.4 percent unemployment rate was slightly better than June’s, an uptick that has been hailed by some as a sign that the U.S. economy is beginning to recover from the financial crisis.

Other denominational agencies also have trimmed staff. Most recently, United Methodist Communications cut seven staff positions in early August.

The average person in the pew probably doesn’t know the names of these former church employees, some of whom had devoted years of service to The United Methodist Church. As someone who has interacted with denominational staff for years, I can verify that many of them are drawn to that work as much from a sense of calling as for a paycheck.

So, it was not a surprise that a veil of sadness has hung over the New York offices of the Board of Global Ministries this summer. More than one staff member used the word “despair” when describing the mood to me during this period as the agency restructures itself.

There’s no doubt the work of the church will continue. But the loss of experienced, dedicated employees cannot be discounted.