Lutherans in the Twin Cities

Congregations as economic networking centers

With his upbeat approach and goal of providing one contact to each attendee
to use in job-search networking, Pastor Rod Anderson presides over the Job
Transition Group at St. Andrew Lutheran Church (ELCA) in Eden Prairie,
Minnesota.

With today’s unemployment numbers, attendance at each Wednesday session
averages 150 to 175. Job seekers are there for Pastor Rod’s encouraging
words, as well as his goal of providing the name and phone number of
someone within a company where the job seeker has indicated he/she would
like to work.

Starting with a group of five members reading the classified ads together and
encouraging each other 22 years ago, the group has becomeone of the most
active such groups around. Only a small percentage of the attendees are
members of the congregation which includes many middle managers or
technology professionals.

Members want to help others. “We’ve created a culture to help people who
are in job transition,” Anderson said. Since its inception, the St. Andrew
group has served 13,000 job seekers.

The concept is that “once we’ve been helped, we help another,” said the
pastor.

The day Metro Lutheran visited the group, attendees had come from Stillwater
and Cologne to Buffalo, all in Minnesota. People have also come from other
states, including Pennsylvania, Ohio, and Michigan. And, these folks represent
many faiths. Anderson calls it the most diverse ministry of St. Andrew.

How does it all happen? Anderson says, “Every church has a database —
names, addresses, phone numbers, place of employment, type of work done.
We’ve put ours to work in this ministry.” Joining St. Andrew Lutheran Church
means a willingness to be a job contact.

However, Anderson gives out names and phone numbers to only one job
seeker at a time so his members aren’t overwhelmed by networking calls.
“After all,” he said, “I’m their pastor and I want them to like me.” These
personal contacts help the job seeker get a feel for the culture of the
company/organization.

The job group takes a time commitment on the part of Pastor Anderson who
was the founding pastor of St. Andrew more than three decades ago. As a
busy leader of a congregation that serves 2,000 to 2,500 families, Anderson
presides over the group’s opening session each Wednesday from 11:30 a.m.
to 1:00 p.m.

With the large attendance, the group splits into first-time attendees and
more experienced job seekers. Anderson works with the first time attendees
— going around the room so that each person introduces him/herself, ending
up with the name of a company where he/she would like to work. (Cargill,
General Mills, and United Healthcare were mentioned most often this date.)

Anderson consults his database and, after the next two self-introductions,
comes back with a contact and phone numbers. It’s a fast-paced session and
reminds one of what it might be like on the trading floor of a stock exchange.
If the pastor and his database are stumped, which isn’t often, he asks if
someone in the room has a contact in the desired company.

Pastor Anderson encourages people to tell about their background,
schools/colleges attended, and places worked. This, he said, “helps make
connections” that are vital to a job seeker. Others in the group may have
graduated from the same college or know about the company or organization
the speaker has indicated he/she would like to contact.

In larger companies, it’s desirable that the contact work in the department
where the job seeker would like to be working — whether it would be
engineering, marketing, purchasing, and so on. “It’s all about connections,”
says the busy pastor.

Pastor Anderson is also a fan of the James J. Hill Library in St. Paul because its
business section has names of directors of departments within companies,
which can be valuable to the job seeker.

An interesting aspect of the networking sessions for that day’s first-timers is
a list of fellow attendees handed out before the close of the one-and-a-
half-hour session — a sort of self-help networking list. The day Metro
Lutheran sat in with the group, the list included 54 names, addresses, phone
numbers, cell phone numbers, last employer name, last position held, and
position desired. That meant that someone was very busy behind the scenes
creating this hand-out list of potential networking contacts from sign-in
sheets completed at the beginning of the meeting.

While St. Andrew welcomes other congregations to establish their own job
groups, Anderson says he has to limit the time he spends on this phase of his
ministry. Churches in Bismarck and Fargo, North Dakota, and Albert Lea,
Minnesota, have sent representatives to visit the St. Andrew group.

Several Lutheran congregations in the Twin Cities area have gone beyond just
being concerned about unemployment issues and have organized programs
to help job seekers. Those congregations include Hosanna! in Lakeville,
Prince of Peace in Burnsville, and Woodbury in Woodbury, all Lutheran
congregations in Minnesota.

Anderson encourages other churches to send people to visit the Wednesday
morning sessions and to check out the church Web site:
www.standrewlu.org/jobtransition. Names of additional groups with a variety
of meeting times and locations may also be found on this Web site.