Unemployed Verso employees and others listen and watch a power-point presentation about finding jobs. The Jobs Fair took place Sept. 17 at Celebration Lutheran Church in Sartell.
by Dennis Dalman
Everyone is invited to an ecumenical service called “Prayer and Hope” focused on the Sartell Verso paper mill, its employees and its long-time importance to central Minnesota.
The service, involving 12 churches, will take place at 6 p.m. Sunday, Sept. 30 at St. Francis Xavier Church in Sartell. The ecumenical event will feature a slide show depicting highlights of the more than 100-year-history of the paper mill. Sartell Mayor Joe Perske will be a guest speaker; he will talk about the enormous long-time importance of the mill to Sartell and the surrounding area. Refreshments and fellowship will follow the service.
Participating churches are Abounding Joy Lutheran Church, Bridge Community Church, Celebration Lutheran Church, First United Methodist Church, Living Waters Lutheran Church, Love of Christ Lutheran Church, Messiah Lutheran Church, Riverside Church, St. Francis Xavier Church, Sacred Heart Catholic Church, Trinity Lutheran Church and The Waters.
The Rev. Jeff Sackett, pastor of Celebration Lutheran Church in Sartell, said the service was organized to express thanks for the Verso paper mill, to give people a chance to get together and grieve for their losses and to nurture hope for the future.
After operating for 106 years in Sartell, the paper mill closed for good last month. A catastrophic fire and explosion at the plant May 28 killed one employee (Jon Maus of Albany), injured four others and ultimately caused the owners to make a tough decision: to close down the plant forever. The closing meant about 250 people became unemployed, not counting many, far and wide, whose jobs depended indirectly on the plant’s manufacturing processes. The plant closing also meant an eventual loss of tax revenue for the city and a pressing need to find some new use for that site.
Members of the church council met and explored ways their church could help unemployed workers. The result was on Monday, Sept. 17, Celebration Lutheran Church sponsored a “Jobs Fair” at its church, designed for those who lost their Verso jobs. About 120 people attended the seminar, which featured a speaker who gave tips about updating resumes, interview advice and ways to network.
\Sackett then decided there should be a church service, too, preferably ecumenical. After just a phone call or two, churches responded, eager to become part of such a service. Sackett said he was pleasantly impressed by the enthusiastic responses. The enthusiasm, he said, made it clear what a positive impact the Verso plant had on so many employees and families not just in Sartell but throughout the entire area.
The “Prayer and Hope” ceremony, Sackett said, will be a way to grieve, to pray and to think about the future.
“It (the service) is a way to invite people into the future,” Sackett said. “God knows what the future will bring, but we do not.”
He said unemployment can be similar to death in some ways. For instance, neighbors and friends of those who lost jobs can feel awkward, not knowing what to say, how to talk about it and how to extend concern and kindness. Sackett said he is hoping neighbors and friends of those unemployed from Verso reach out to them and encourage them to attend the service.