Bankruptcy of Enron calls for unique ministry

By on March 1, 2002

Houston When Enron Corp. laid off more than 4,000 employees in late November, Rev. Jim Nutter, rector of Palmer Memorial Church here, knew the church had to respond. Palmer’s Episcopalian congregation was the spiritual home to many Enron employees and their families, who suddenly faced unemployment and uncertain futures as Christmas approached. Mr. Nutter sent an e-mail proposing a lunch and prayer session to offer support for people dealing with layoffs. Within minutes, he had replies from several former Enron employees and others still employed at the Houston-based energy company. More response came from parishioners who had recently lost jobs at other suffering Houston businesses and from family members of former employees. “I had people calling and saying, ‘I’ve been laid off, and I’m doing okay, but my wife isn’t. Can I bring her?'” Mr. Nutter said. One such parishioner was Linda Shelton, Palmer’s parish life coordinator. Mrs. Shelton’s husband worked at Enron for 27 years, and lost his entire retirement fund when the company collapsed. More than 30 parishioners came to the lunch. “We spent about an hour and a half together, sharing support and solace,” said Mr. Nutter, who set no agenda for the meeting. Instead, he encouraged the attendees to talk about their experiences. “We just listened to stories,” Mrs. Shelton said, shaking her head. When Mr. Nutter asked what, as a Christian community, Palmer could do to help, one attendee wondered what would happen if they sent their resumes to the church. During services the following Sunday, Mr. Nutter announced plans for unemployed members of the congregation to post resumes on Palmer’s Web site. Immediately, a parishioner approached him and asked if she could post two job openings. Another parishioner volunteered to help set up the Web page and help match parishioners looking for jobs with parishioners looking for employees. The new online job bank, part of the new Career Care program initiated by the parish, was up and running by the end of December. Another parishioner with experience in human resources offered to organize training sessions to teach job-hunting and interview skills. Palmer has also set aside office space to update resumes and prepare new ones. In addition to its employment ministries, Palmer has reinforced its bonds as a community. When several people said they simply did not know what to do with their mornings, Palmer responded with a daily “coffee house,” offering unemployed parishioners a place to spend their mornings together and share their progress.

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