A Church for the Unemployed

This photo essay features images of the NorthWest Bible Church’s Between Jobs Ministry in Spring, Texas, made by photographer Elizabeth Conley. Here’s what’s behind the essay, in her words:

While the nation has been enjoying the benefits of cheaper gas at the pump, oil-producing states have seen the negative effects. The latest numbers from the U.S. Energy Information Administration show that between October 2014 and May 2016, there’s been a decline in oil and gas employment of 26 percent.

For more than 25 years, the NorthWest Bible Church in Spring, Texas, an outlying suburb of Houston, has been hosting a Between Jobs Ministry. People from all walks of life are welcomed to learn interviewing and résumé skills, find encouragement and a lot of faith that they can get through this difficult time. Hundreds of job seekers attend each week, overflowing the church’s parking lot with newer, well-maintained automobiles. The founder and spiritual director of the program, Roy Farmer Jr., sets the tone for the weekly meetings, constantly greeting attendees with a firm handshake or hug along with his ‘God has a plan for you,’ message.

Having covered the auto industry collapse while at The Detroit News and as a Kiplinger Fellow, I found many similarities between the line workers in their union halls with these white-collar workers at the ministry. By the time workers attend the ministry, the shock has worn off, and the hope the company will call them back has long passed. This place is a pause before desperation. It is their last stop for hope: to keep their house, car, health, savings, and in some cases, their families.

My goal for this project was to put a face to the statistics of the unemployed, professional white-collar worker connected to the oil and gas industry—those who may be overlooked because they are older, living in nice homes, and in nice neighborhoods. Behind that façade, they are struggling to reinvent themselves as they apply for jobs in a new economy that doesn't always value experience.

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