|Job loss provides opportunity to serve others|
Becci Monge, recently laid off from Caterpillar Corp., volunteers with a new
ministry at First Peoria (Ill.) United Methodist Church that assists
the area’s unemployed. UMNS photos by Paul Black.
A UMNS Report
By Paul Black*
March 12, 2009 | PEORIA, Ill.
For Becci Monge, the economic downturn has hit close to home.
A mother of two young children, Monge was employed at Peoria-based Caterpillar Corp. until last December. “That’s when I found out I was losing my job at Caterpillar University,” she said.
With additional time on her hands, Monge said she asked God in prayer, “What is it you want me to do with my extra time?” “God talks to me all the time,” she said. “And God showed me a way that I could help others with job loss and transitioning to new and different work.”
It was this same prayer and frame of mind that has led Monge’s congregation, Peoria First United Methodist Church, to put together a strategy for assisting persons affected by the economic downturn.
Relevant in a crisis
The congregation is bringing together a cross-section of its membership and partnering with community and social agencies to be a clearinghouse for persons needing assistance. In cooperation with the Illinois Workforce Network, the state agency that assists with transitional employment training and leveraging existing community relationships, Peoria First is building a new ministry to meet the crisis.
In addition to the Workforce Network providing free services and education, a church computer lab will also serve as a satellite center at Peoria First. The church will also provide pastoral care through Sunday School classes, five Stephen ministers and a church grief group.
A packet of information has been assembled and volunteer partners are being trained, according to Cathy Clark, the church’s coordinator of congregational care. “Part of our training for our volunteers is the sensitivity to confidentiality, respect and dignity,” Clark said. “Through our normal nursery ministry and prayer requests, we have identified seven family units who may benefit from this ministry.”
“I feel it is important that the organization called church be relevant in a crisis,” said committee member Larry Whitler. “I have been unemployed and my father has been unemployed at different points in our lives. We need to be there for people but it is a balancing act of assessing what we can and cannot do.”
Whitler said the church’s existing ministry partnerships have been a real means by which the congregation has been able to identify with those in need.
“Through the church’s soccer ministry, a mother and daughter, a part of the working poor, has taught us about poverty in a new light,” he said. “You know, oftentimes there is the attitude, ‘Pull yourself up by your bootstraps’ and sometimes there are no boots.”
It’s about relationships
In the view of Janice Whitler, his wife, it’s is all about relationships. “In Sunday School class, we have been asking, ‘What can we do at this time?’ Larry and I have become aware personally of four young people that were unemployed,” she said. “If we know four, how many others are there that need help?”
Janice Sutherland, whose husband lost a job in 1995 and transitioned through three jobs over the next seven years, believes the church needs to remember all the parties impacted by the downturn.
“My husband is worried about his job because he lost another account today,” Sutherland explained. “But I see a difference this time around. Earlier, my husband never felt the church wrapped their arms around him. We, as the church, need to participate, helping both the one who loses the job as well as family members who are impacted by the job loss.”
Cathy Clark, the church’s coordinator of congregational care, is facilitating the committee’s work. “When we are in crisis, we don’t recognize Jesus much like those on the road to Emmaus,” she said. “We are called to love them in the midst of the crisis in order that they know that Jesus has not left them.”
Using gifts and opportunities
The church is also looking at a “job club” concept where members who may be hiring seasonal employees will post jobs and persons needing work post their resumes.
Janice Sutherland (left), Kyle Spitzer
and Gwen Bateman plan ways the
church can help people find work.
“We went through a similar experience in the 1980s,” recalled committee member Kyle Spitzer. “At that time, a couple of folks went to work at the church until they could find other work. We will again look at our facility needs and see if there are options for folks in the way of transitional employment.”
“From personal experience, I know that some folks being laid off right now have not had to submit resumes and interview for jobs in 15 to 20 years,” Monge said. “This was something I can do since I did training at Caterpillar University.”
Monge said some of the contacts so far have been in preparing persons for job interviews and just a follow-up call of encouragement.
She also worked for 12 years for Freddie Mac, a government-sponsored enterprise created to expand the secondary market for mortgages. “My job was as an eviction/support closure specialist and I always felt bad about it because I had to make decisions that affected people and their families,” she recalled.
“But now, God is providing me an opportunity to use those skills to help folks understand all the paperwork and help them determine whether it is better to sell, refinance or prepare the family and children to walk away from their mortgage.”
And economic uncertainty remains over the Monge household. Her husband works for Caterpillar’s building construction equipment division and was notified he would be subject to a six-week “rolling layoff” during the first six months of 2009 with another six weeks likely in the second half of the year.
“We feel truly blessed that we have a job and that God has always provided,” Monge said. “And I believe the current difficulty is a way for us to help others and show the world the Body of Christ in action.”
*Black is director of communication ministries for the United Methodist Illinois Great Rivers Conference.
News media contact: Linda Bloom, New York, (646) 369-3759 or email@example.com.
Michigan churches adjust to economic downturn
Hoosier United Methodists offer help in downturn
Churches offer services to the jobless
Unemployment rate jumps to 8.1 percent in U.S.
Church leaders speak out on economic suffering
Mission agency to cut $3.9 million from budget
Publishing House feels impact of economic downturn
Trinity UMC, Elkhart
Michigan Christian Advocate
Illinois Great Rivers Conference
U.S. Department of Labor