MICHELE NORRIS, host:
This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Michele Norris.
MELISSA BLOCK, host:
And I'm Melissa Block.
As the unemployment rate rises, some job seekers have begun looking for support at churches and other places of worship. In recent months, many congregations have started special ministries for the unemployed. Their meetings typically combine a bit of religion with some practical advice on finding work.
NPR's Adam Hochberg dropped by a few of these meetings in Raleigh, North Carolina.
ADAM HOCHBERG: For the 50 or so unemployed professionals who meet each week at Hope Community Church, searching for a new career involves more than printing resumes or pouring through help wanted ads, it also includes a few prayers.
Unidentified Man #1: We ask that we would be able to network with each other, Father, and find a job.
HOCHBERG: These prayers begin and end each job-seeker meeting at Hope, an evangelical church with some 4,000 members. The group meets in the church's busy lobby, not far from the espresso bar and the children's play area. Members share interview tips, networking leads and the like.
But at a recent meeting, group leader Jim Bartley also encourage them to approach their job search from a biblical perspective.
Mr. JIM BARTLEY (Member, Hope Community Church): People like us, there are people like Joseph, who went through hardship. Later on, they found out that, well, for such a time as this, I was placed here, and you know, for such a time as this, maybe you're right where you are right now.
HOCHBERG: Bartley was laid off nine months ago from Lenovo, the computer maker. He noticed more and more church members were looking for work, so he helped found this group late last year. [POST-BROADCAST CORRECTION: Bartley had been employed by STMicroelectronics as an account manager for Lenovo.]
Mr. BARTLEY: I honestly just felt that God put it on my heart. I actually brought a letter that somebody was talking about how she was going to kill herself, and she started coming to this. And not only did God find her a job, but he also found her friendship.
HOCHBERG: Bartley says the group welcomes anyone looking for work, even if they're not in Hope's congregation. But at this church, which strives to transform people into followers of Jesus Christ, just about everybody who comes in hears an evangelical message. And Pastor Donnie Darr says several job seekers now worship here, too.
Pastor DONNIE DARR (Hope Community Church): You know, 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.
HOCHBERG: Groups like the one at Hope Community are becoming common at houses of worship around the country. North Carolina has more than 20, sponsored by Catholic, Baptist, Jewish and several other congregations.
At Raleigh's St. Andrews Presbyterian Church, membership in the job-seeker group has grown to almost 100 people.
Ms. LINDA LEAKE (Member, St. Andrews Presbyterian Church): Good morning.
Unidentified People: Good morning.
Ms. LEAKE: All right. You guys are on top of it today.
HOCHBERG: While these meetings are held in the church basement, they're not overtly religious. Instead, organizer Linda Leake introduces guest speakers who talk about such things as online networking, and she asks participants to share their own stories.
Ms. LEAKE: Now, guess what it's time for? Successes.
(Soundbite of laughter)
Ms. LEAKE: You are having such a good time. I've got to hear about some of those successes.
HOCHBERG: Leake, a business management consultant and St. Andrews volunteer, began holding these meetings in January, reviving a program the church ran earlier this decade during the dot-com bust.
Leake says the employment situation is worse now than it was then, and she sees a greater need for church-based support.
Ms. LEAKE: You can go anyplace, and somebody will tell you how to write a resume. I think that we have a place where there's a spirit of love.
HOCHBERG: Leake says ministers sit in on these meetings, providing spiritual guidance to anybody who asks for it and watching for people in unusual despair. But she says the main goal is to inform job seekers about how to find work and motivate them to keep looking.
Unemployed saleswoman Diane Asher-Annab has worshiped at St. Andrews for years and now comes to the meetings, too.
Ms. DIANE ASHER-ANNAB (Member, St. Andrews Presbyterian Church): This is like a safe haven for me to come and start over. And I feel warm here. I mean, I have a wonderful church family here. So, just getting back into the workforce, I want - it's all about comfort right now because I'm so scared.
(Soundbite of laughter)
HOCHBERG: After two months, the St. Andrews group has had a few success stories. Two members have found jobs, one started his own business. That's not many, perhaps, in a group of almost 100 people, but Linda Leake says each success provides encouragement for the rest of the group and maybe helps sustain their faith.
Adam Hochberg, NPR News, Chapel Hill, North Carolina.