We knew each other by sight — some of us, even by name. But we had no idea that we were each at sea, adrift on our own boats. The church community should have been a place to let our hair down and be ourselves, to gather and say, “I’m struggling with this. I need help, and I need prayer.” But six days a week we inhabit a world that prizes individualism and self-sufficiency, so we were embarrassed.
We were unemployed.
More than a year ago, five of us began to meet, endowed with little more than a name (Meaningful Work Group) and a key to our church, Christ Lutheran in Washington, D.C. So we began that morning, warily, by simply introducing ourselves and telling our stories.
Just months before, one of us who had been searching for work approached our pastor, Renata Eustis, to ask: Weren’t there others in similar circumstances? Why not start a support group?
When we met, we were astonished to discover that we’d each felt bullied out of our last jobs for taking a stand on an important issue and had, curiously enough, found ourselves feeling unsupported by our partners or marriages. How empowering to discover we weren’t alone.
We talked candidly, listened attentively, accepted help, lived and loved boldly, and advocated aggressively — not just for ourselves but on behalf of each other.
In community, what we’d been unable to do for ourselves we suddenly were able, with wit and wisdom, to do for each other. Inspired by Matthew 5:13-20 (“You are the salt of the earth; but if salt has lost its taste, how can its saltiness be restored?”), we began demonstrating our belief in the outstanding talents each other offered and set about helping recast our stories in a positive and powerful light.
Peggy Klaus’ Brag! The Art of Tooting Your Own Horn without Blowing It (Warner Business Books, 2004) was a helpful guide.
We set about helping rewrite each other’s résumés to reflect “You are the light of the world ... let your light so shine before others .…” We conducted mock interviews and called on other congregational members as resources — combing Rolodexes for job leads and contacts.
Christ Lutheran, a Reconciling in Christ congregation (welcoming to lesbian, gay, transgendered and bisexual people) took as its motto “God’s people are tested” during the AIDS epidemic. During this economic crisis, it adopted the mindset “God’s people are employed.”
When that first bold member who approached the pastor about starting the group relocated for her new job, she emailed: “Please know this, that it takes a village not just to raise a child but to live as an adult. We need each other. I don’t believe in suffering in silence. The Bible is full of incidents of people crying out for help and asking to be healed. So ask and find; knock and the door will be opened up to you. … Without you guys, my job search and find would have been very lonely.”
But she wasn’t the only one. All members of our original group who were actively looking received offers of meaningful work, and a new group of job seekers will form this fall.
© 2014 Augsburg Fortress, Publishers