Emeral Duncan wipes away a tear following the dinner blessing at RUMC Job Networking, Roswell (Ga.) United Methodist Church’s career ministry. Duncan recently lost his job as a software programmer. A UMNS photo by Kathleen Barry.
“I have $800 left. No house, I’m living with a friend. I’m lost. I’m scared.”
“I have been without a job for a year. I never thought it would happen to me.”
“I’m technically homeless. I travel back and forth from my sister’s place and my parents’.”
Clay Redmon, 43; Lisa L. Lampkin, 53; and David Hampe, 25, came to Roswell United Methodist Church on a rainy Monday afternoon because they need help: They need a job.
Every second and fourth Monday, the doors at Roswell are wide open for job seekers. Dinner, understanding, encouragement and networking are all served free.
“With dinner, we think we set something in motion that says we care. There’s white tablecloths. There’s real silverware. And it all starts with that handshake when you first walk in the door,” says Jay Litton, founder of RUMC Job Networking.
On a gloomy autumn day, more than 350 people streamed into the church for a full menu of workshops and advice. Many walked out with an armload of assistance: proper business attire, a professional photo to post on LinkedIn or other job websites, a polished résumé and assurance that people would pray for them.
Lampkin said her main reason for coming on this day was for encouragement. “I got up today, and I just wasn’t motivated to go look for a job. I’m feeling kinda like the weather.”
Jay Litton, founder of the RUMC Job Networking ministry at Roswell (Ga.) United Methodist Church, says ministry doesn’t need a lot of people or activities, it just needs commitment.
Walking into a large room filled with round tables, a bustling kitchen, a buffet line, a stage and a large screen projecting instructions and directions about opportunities available for the evening can be a bit overwhelming. Volunteers are standing by, ready to offer a warm welcome.
“The new seekers walk through the door with a deer-in-the-headlights look because they walk into a room that is much larger than they thought it would be,” says Bob Kashey, one of the table leaders and an inspirational speaker. “And we wind up feeding the souls and the tummies of 350 job seekers.”
Encountering John Harper immediately puts the job seeker at ease. Harper has been the greeter and a volunteer with the ministry since 2001.
“I watch their faces coming down this walkway,” he says. “You can tell the mood of many of them. Apprehensive. Many of them are concerned about how they’re going to make payments on their house or their car. I’ve had enough family members to be among the unemployed to know the stress that places on a family.”
The volunteers have two goals, Harper says. “We try to make people understand that number one, God will hear you and God will help you. And number two, you’re not alone.”
Louis Gruver, a job seeker, remembers his first night at the ministry.
“I didn’t really want to do this,” he said. “But I knew that I had to. And, you know, Mr. Harper was at the front door. And he shakes your hand and says, ‘Welcome.”
Redmon was one of the newcomers Oct. 10.
“I had to be very humble to come here because at one time, I had a lot of money. Now I have $800 left,” he said. “I won’t feel bad to tell somebody I got this great suit from Roswell United Methodist Church. I will brag on them on Facebook tomorrow; I will tell all my friends to give ‘em a try.”
Katherine Simons, coordinator of the job-networking ministry, talks with Tyrone Griffin, who just got a job. “I used to tell people, I will land a job when you land a job. God knows when that is. You don’t know,” Griffin says.
The well-oiled machine that today is RUMC Job Networking wasn’t always so large.
Litton remembers when it was just him and another man looking for a job.
In the beginning, prayer was not a part of the program. Leaders reasoned that since the meeting was open to the community, the church didn’t want to offend anyone. For a while that was OK with Litton also because he wasn’t a member of the church and wasn’t a professed Christian.
When he turned his life over to Christ, he realized he could turn the job-networking group into a job-networking ministry. Prayer became a key ingredient.
Ministry doesn’t need a lot of people or activities; it just needs commitment, he says.
For a long time, the ministry ran with five volunteers ministering to 60 to 80 job seekers, says Katherine Simons, program coordinator.
In 2010, the United Methodist North Georgia Annual (regional) Conference asked Roswell to hold a conference to teach other churches how to start similar ministries.
More than 200 people from 80 churches of all denominations attended the February conference. In preparation, the team put together a book, "Loving Your Neighbor," with stories from 34 volunteers who were passionate about the program.
Prayer warriors stand by to pray with job seekers in the small chapel used for the job-networking ministry.
Since then, part of the Monday evening sessions includes a workshop led by Simons on how to start a job-networking ministry.
“I constantly remind everyone that you can have a … complete career ministry with just a handful of volunteers,” she says.
Simons says they don’t count success by the number of people who find jobs but, rather, by the number of people who walk out seeing light at the end of the tunnel.
Job seekers come in the door beaten down by the constant bombardment of bad news.
The Department of Labor reports more than 2 million people have been jobless for at least two years, and 700,000 have been looking for work for at least three years.
The government just announced the “misery index ”– the country’s inflation plus unemployment rates – rose to 13 percent, a 28-year high. The jobless rate has been stuck at 9 percent for months and is forecast only to drop marginally by year-end.
News like that doesn’t help morale, says Phil Clark, sitting at the table reserved for the age 21-29 group. Most of the group members are recent college graduates.
Clark thought he was going to be starting a new job and would have great news to share at the meeting, but the offer was retracted because the corporate office decided it would not be hiring any more people from the Atlanta area.
“Jesus never said life would be easy,” says Trevor Nunnally, another group member.
Volunteer Bob Kashey shares his story with job seekers as a table host and an inspirational speaker.
The twice-monthly programs are from 5:45 to 9 p.m. Bonus workshops are from 1 to 5:30 p.m.
Crossroads Career Workshop – a nonprofit organization designed to help churches minister to people at a career crossroads – is a four-hour, fast-paced, six-step plan for finding a job.
Other early afternoon workshops range from "Boomers’ Winning Job Strategies" to "Why Should I Hire You?"
Dinner starts at 5:45, which includes an inspirational speaker and a quick Bible study. Table hosts use that time to discuss God and faith’s role in the job hunt.
On this night, Rusty Gordon is on stage with good news from Philippians 4:13: “I can do all things through him who strengthens me.”
Mark Reynolds, who hosts the 21-29 table, encourages the group to listen to Gordon. “Rusty has been through what we have been through.”
Many of the volunteers know what it is like to be jobless or to lose a job or business after 10 to 20 years of loyal employment.
Kashey has an especially compelling story to share. He started having panic attacks when he was 20 that lasted until he was 40.
“I took menial jobs at minimum wage because I had to be in a job where I could avoid people,” he says. His anxiety got to the point where he couldn’t leave his house. He finally broke down and prayed, and God “heaped an unbelievable level of passion on me.”
People share stories of devastation in their lives made different when they let God take control, Kashey says.
Brian Barnard, a first-time visitor to the job-networking ministry, reviews his résumé at a table of young adults.
“The ministry is very successful. We get emails from people that have come here for eight, nine, 10 months and then get a job. And the first thing they do is … send an email to Katherine and Jay Litton saying, ‘I just got hired and thank you so much for what you guys do.’
“I come here to feed these people, and I leave my table well fed because just the way they react to me. You can see the smiles on their face as they hit aha moments.”
Service is a large part of the 7,000-member United Methodist church. Once a year, on Laity Sunday, the volunteers are celebrated, and everyone is asked to commit to a service opportunity.
On Oct. 9, the Rev. Mike D. Long asked people “prayerfully (to) consider where God is calling you to serve in the church, the community and in missions.” The goal for this year is to have 1,750 people “plugged in,” he says. There are 1,500 volunteers now.
Simons says the volunteers for the job-networking ministry are chosen with care, taking into account their gifts and talents.
“When we talk to a volunteer … we’re asking, ‘Would you like to volunteer with this ministry because you just have all the right stuff?’ Everything that you have ever learned in your whole life can be put to work in this one ministry.”
Some volunteers are perfect as table hosts; some are good at reviewing résumés; some are the perfect servers, Simons says. Roswell now has 360 volunteers in the job-networking ministry.
Chris Gilliam with Crossroads Career leads an afternoon workshop.
Not everyone who volunteers actually attends the Monday meetings. The industry guide program has 160 volunteers who are employed and willing to take a 15-minute phone call from anyone who wants to learn more about their company or job.
“It’s not that we have jobs for you directly, but we know that there’s a simple fact about getting a quality job which is it’s not gonna happen from sitting back and sending out résumés on a website and clicking links and emailing. It’s gonna happen through direct person-to-person contact,” says Michael DuBois, a director of information technology and one of the church members who volunteers as an industry guide.
“The first thing I want to do is make sure they feel comfortable because it’s hard. I mean, picking up the phone and calling a stranger, regardless if it’s in the guise of the church or not. It’s not an easy thing to do.
“We offer a lot of great programs, but as soon as somebody walks in our door or makes that phone call and makes contact with one of us, they know there are people out there that love them. And that’s because there’s a God out there that loves them.”
Julie Mizer couldn’t sleep at night for worrying about the people who needed jobs and had no proper business clothes. Thus Attire for Hire, a boutique of gently used business suits, is set up in a Sunday school classroom.
“At the Attire for Hire Closet, we try to help people in their career search to wear appropriate professional attire to their job interviews,” says Mizer. “We know that sometimes people that have been out of work may not have extremely up-to-date clothing. We try to help them put together an outfit that’ll be appropriate for whatever kind of job they’re interviewing for.”
Lisa L. Lampkin (left) tries on skirts in the Attire for Hire clothing closet at Roswell (Ga.) United Methodist Church with assistance from volunteer, Julie Mizer.
On a typical night, 15 to 20 men and women come in looking for a particular size and asking about the right thing to wear to an interview.
“If we can,” Mizer adds, “we will dress them head to toe. For gentlemen, we’ll try to do tie, shirt, slacks. For women, we’ll try to do a suit, a dress or slacks – even handbags or shoes, if we have them.”
“Every second and fourth Monday is an event,” Litton says. Simmons agrees. “It takes 70 pairs of feet on the ground in order to keep this running at the level we’re at today.”
Over the last 10 years, it has grown to the point where up to 450 people have come on a Monday to Roswell, looking for help. Litton says many people in the church have volunteered in this ministry for five to 11 years.
“When you’re at the dinner tables and you’re a volunteer or you’re hosting that table of, let’s say seven or eight people, you’re now talking about Christ to seven people you’ve never met before. And I don’t know about you, but where else do you find those opportunities?” Litton asks.
DuBois says 11 years ago, he and his wife were drawn to Roswell because of the strong sense of service.
“What greater need is there right now than helping the unemployed?” he asks.
That works out great, Litton says. “What’s pretty cool about United Methodists is that they want to serve.”
At the end of the night, Lampkin left feeling hopeful and smiling.
“Tomorrow will be a better day.”
*Gilbert is a multimedia reporter for the young adult content team at United Methodist Communications, Nashville, Tenn.
News media contact: Kathy L. Gilbert, Nashville, Tenn., (615) 742-5470 or firstname.lastname@example.org.