Diane Buehler speaks at a meeting of Hope Job Seekers. The group meets each week in the lobby of Hope Community Church, an evangelical megachurch in Raleigh, N.C.
Diane Buehler speaks at a meeting of Hope Job Seekers. The group meets each week in the lobby of Hope Community Church, an evangelical megachurch in Raleigh, N.C. Adam Hochberg/NPR
For the unemployed professionals who meet each week at Hope Community Church in Raleigh, N.C., looking for a job is a matter of faith.
About 50 people attend the Thursday morning meetings of Hope Job Seekers, a support group for the unemployed. Members share practical information, such as job leads and resume tips. But they also pray and try to support each other spiritually.
"It's just about helping people where they're at in life," said Donnie Darr, one of the church's pastors.
Unemployment support groups are becoming common at houses of worship around the country. North Carolina has more than 20 groups sponsored by Catholic, Baptist, Jewish and several other kinds of congregations.
The one at Hope Community, an evangelical megachurch, is among the most active. Church member Jim Bartley had the idea to form the group last year after he was laid off from computer maker Lenovo.
"I honestly just felt that God put it on my heart, and it was something that just wouldn't leave my mind," Bartley said.
Keeping Job Seekers Motivated
At a recent meeting, a group prayer called upon God to help members network with each other and find jobs. In opening remarks, Bartley related the biblical stories of Esther and Joseph, and he suggested that unemployed people seek positive lessons from adversity.
Bartley said the group welcomes anyone looking for work, even if they're not in Hope's congregation. But several of the job seekers have decided to stay and worship.
"They come in and see the environment, and they just realize this is a good place to be," Darr said. "A lot of these people, they didn't ask to get fired or laid off or lose their job. But maybe at this point, they find Jesus."
Group leaders at Hope Community and other churches say it's sometimes hard to keep job seekers motivated, especially when some have been on the market for six months or more. Many of the groups meet early in the morning — often on Monday mornings — to provide an incentive for members to get out of the house.
At Raleigh's St. Andrews Presbyterian Church, moderator Linda Leake brings an upbeat, energetic persona to the weekly 7:30 a.m. meetings. Leake, a business management consultant and St. Andrews volunteer, began holding the meetings in January, reviving a program the church ran earlier this decade during the dot-com bust.
"You can go any place and somebody will tell you how to write a resume," Leake said. "I think that we have a place where there's a spirit of love."
A 'Safe Haven'
Ministers sit in on the St. Andrews meetings, providing spiritual guidance to anybody who asks for it and watching for people in unusual despair. But aside from a brief opening prayer, the sessions aren't overtly religious. Instead, Leake passes along job hunting tips, introduces guest speakers and invites members to network and tell their own stories.
"This is like a safe haven for me to come and start over," says Diane Asher-Annab, an unemployed saleswoman. "I feel warm here and have a wonderful church family here."
After two months, the St. Andrews group has had a few successes. Two members have found jobs; one has started his own business.
Meanwhile, at Hope Community, Bartley relates the story of a church member who was so distraught over being unemployed that she thought about killing herself. But Bartley says her fortunes improved after she began attending the church's job seeker meetings.
"Not only did God find her a job, but he also found her friendship," Bartley said.