During this never-ending winter, I participated as a guest in Room In The Inn at Christ United Methodist Church in Franklin, Tennessee. I helped serve a meal to thirteen homeless men who spent the night, had a shower, used the laundry facilities and picked out new clothing.
As I ate with the men at my table, I was impressed with the work skills they described and the work ethic that lay under their words. They were articulate but humbled by their current reality.
A merchant marine spoke to me at length of his frustration at being unable to find work after being displaced by Hurricane Katrina. Another spoke of his construction work and the layoffs that occurred when construction declined. There was a chef at our table. And a plumber.
The same day the New York Times ran a feature on the effects of long-term unemployment on job seekers. Frustration, damage to self-esteem, economic hardship and the risk of deteriorating skills were among the results.
How much more, I wondered, does it affect the young man who told me he felt he was at the bottom of the barrel? Having once been meaningfully employed, he went on a job search, left his backpack with his clothing in what he thought was a safe place only to return to find all his earthly possessions had been stolen.
Why, he asked, would someone steal the little stuff I have when they know I’m at the bottom?
There is no answer, of course. But it was a reminder to me that we must be with people, especially when they feel alone and at the bottom. That no matter our situation, we are entitled to simple, basic and profound human dignity.
And, through outreach such as Room In The Inn, we are. We, as the connectional church. are also with those seeking to re-enter the workplace through support groups and training sessions. And we must be with them with pastoral care and counseling for the emotional trauma many experience.
And we must be advocates for public policies that help to ease the burdens of unemployment, even as we support private initiatives to increase work opportunities.
The young man who had hit bottom volunteered to bless the food. He prayed a beautiful prayer of thanksgiving. As he was grateful to be inside the warmth provided by Christ United Methodist Church, I was grateful for the warmth of his spirit which spoke to my own soul.
In these times of economic hardship, we must be together. For it is by being together that we learn from each other, grow in our understanding and discover our common humanity.