THE BLOG
01/07/2013 10:41 am ET | Updated Mar 09, 2013

Tis the Season.. To Start Looking for a Job (With a Faith-Based Service Program)

What did you ask for this Christmas?

Given the economy, you might have asked for a job after you graduate.

Maybe what you'd really like isn't just any job, but one where you can engage in the world for a year and explore and deepen your spiritual life!

You may think this is bad timing on my part and a wonderful way for me to ruin the end of your vacation. Why start worrying about what you'll do after graduation? I can assure you that you'd rather hear it from me now than from your commencement speaker in just a few months!

Other things you won't want to hear on graduation day: how much money you owe and how the economy is doing.

You want good news -- so here is some:

Back when I graduated from college (yes, a long, long time ago) service jobs were few and far between, mainly available through the Peace Corps or VISTA. Most parents didn't encourage their college graduate kids to pursue service placements. After all, why would someone spend all that money on college to get a job that doesn't pay very well or might not have the prestige of a "regular job"?

Today, however, the environment is different.

There are tens of thousands of service jobs available. And more and more young people -- and their parents -- are recognizing the opportunities for personal growth and the benefits of engaging in our communities.

These days, you get a job with AmeriCorps, City Year or Teach for America, and folks say "Way to go!" and "Nice job!"

Keep in mind that getting a job with AmeriCorps is not a slam-dunk. In a recent article by Michael Brown, co-founder and president of City Year, as many as 580,000 individuals apply for the 80,000 AmeriCorps positions that are available annually.

Many placements include a stipend, as well as education awards and plenty of ways to gain new skills and experience.

There are other service options that are particularly designed for those who want to integrate their passion for service with their spiritual exploration.

For nearly a decade, my colleague Jim Ellison, who is the Fund for Theological Education's director of Volunteers Exploring Vocation, and I have worked with a number of these faith-based organizations. Collectively, they hire more than 2,000 individuals annually to work in yearlong service positions.

These programs recruit talented, energetic and committed individuals who want to engage in the world and explore their faith. Many offer opportunities that are very similar to AmeriCorps, but have added elements, including:
  • A distinct connection to spiritual exploration and vocational discernment
  • Opportunities for intentional communal living
  • Connections with local congregations and mentors that offer support and entry points into the community
  • A commitment to simple living and sustainable environmental practices
  • Placements that engage in public policy, politics, religion and advocacy (in ways that AmeriCorps does not permit)
  • Service opportunities in a wide range of issue areas including education, housing, immigration, human rights, legal assistance and public health, to name a few.
These programs offer other advantages, such as:
  • Quality leadership training
  • Enrichment activities and retreats for personal and professional development
  • Orientations and end-of-year events for preparation and training
  • Committed alumni, who will help with transitions to new possibilities
  • Partnerships with graduate programs that offer reduced or free tuition to specific graduate schools
These programs are highly regarded and capture the attention of future employers. Many offer a second year of employment; some employers hire volunteers on a full-time basis with full salary after they complete their service.

But do you have to be religious to serve with these organizations?

My first repose is: What does it meant to be religious? My other answer is that it depends. Some are very Christian-centered and demand a strict lifestyle that is rooted in Christian discipline and faith formation in authentic and challenging ways. Others merely ask participants to be faithful seekers and to respect and honor the different paths of others.

There are other differences between these programs. Some require you to raise funds, while others do not. All offer small stipends, each month ranging from $50 to $500. Most provide some type of food allowance that is on top of the stipend. Many offer AmeriCorps education awards, but some don't.

Again, to be clear, some of these programs are very competitive. I know of one program that receives more than 100 applications for a site in New York City that only has space for five residents.

But not all of them are over-subscribed, meaning your odds of getting a placement and having the possibility of a great year of service, personal growth, resume-building and growing up is within your grasp -- if you start working on it now.

Below is a list of organizations that are worth considering. You can also access this list by going to the FAITH3 website.

The programs lifted up here are all coming from some type of a Christian connection. It is not because they are the only faith-based programs out there; they are just the ones I know about. Other faith traditions have their own. Among the many others to look at are Avodah, the Jewish Service Corps, and the Interfaith Youth Core.

So think, research, pray, talk and apply. Tell them Rev. Wayne sent you. It might help. You never know!