Both Canada and the United States are facing employment challenges. In November, newspapers and news radio stations in Ontario, Canada were obsessed with one story – the announcement that General Motors would be closing its plant in Oshawa, Ont. at the end of 2019.
Thousands of GM workers are now facing unemployment, but the impacts of the announcement stretched even further. For every job at the assembly plant, experts estimated that there were nine additional jobs created in the community (see this CBC story for more). This announcement spells potential unemployment and underemployment for the whole city.
News reporters told stories of families who have been GM employees for generations, employees who were expecting their first child in 2019 and were now uncertain about their future, and those who were worried about where they’d find another job to employ them until retirement.
Recently, we’ve seen similar stories coming out in the United States. In December, the United States Congress and President Trump failed to reach agreement on a federal budget, and this forced the shutdown of the government. As a result, nearly 800,000 federal employees have been forced to work without pay or to not work at all. These men and women are struggling to pay their bills, feed their families, and meet their obligations for things like rent or mortgage payments.
How should the church respond?
The truth is that employment and financial matters are highly personal. Those in our church who may feel comfortable coming forward to express health concerns to their church community, may feel uncomfortable letting others know that they are unsure how they will pay their bills that month.
There is a sense of pride that people take in being able to support their family. One’s vocation also becomes a key part of their personal identity. When these things are taken away, it can be hard to talk about with others.
Add to that the fact that many Christian Reformed people are more used to giving to help others than receiving help in return, these sorts of unemployment and underemployment situations can remain under the radar in most congregations.
As deacons, there are a few things you can do:
- Be aware (in your church) – try to know the members of your congregation and what they do for a living. Beyond helping you get to know others in the community, this can also help to make you aware of when some people might have needs.
- Be aware (in your community) - even if people in your congregation haven’t been impacted by employment issues, some of your neighbors may have. Be aware of what’s going on in your broader neighborhood, and also what resources might be available to those with needs.
- Check in – if you know that someone has been affected by the federal shutdown, automobile plant closings, or other employment changes, take the time to reach out to them to see how they are doing. Check how they are feeling about the situation and what their plans are for next steps. Simply opening the door to talk about these things is often a good first step.
- Offer help – while churches can’t offer full-time employment to all of their members, there are often many things that you can do for those facing employment uncertainty. Maybe someone needs a loan or financial assistance to see them through until their situation changes. Maybe they are interested in pursuing a new career and could be partnered with another member for mentorship. Maybe the assistance that is required is as simple as providing groceries for a few months. Another post on the Network offered several great suggestions about developing policies and guidelines around benevolence.
- Don’t do it alone - While it is important to protect the privacy of those with needs, it is also important to not limit the task of responded to your deacons. Perhaps other members could be galvanized to offer financial support. Maybe the congregation could pray for those impacted in the community. The key is to work with other deacons, the pastor, the elders and/or the prayer ministry to encourage the entire congregation to be aware of the general need and to be engaged in a response.
While talking about employment and financial challenges can be difficult, helping members through these times is a key part of Christian community.
Do you have other tips to share on how your congregation is responding to situations like these?