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Chaplains counsel patience as GM downsizes

c. 2008 Religion News Service WYOMING, Mich. _ David Karel does not know what comes next for him and his 1,500 fellow workers at the GM metal stamping plant, following last week’s announcement it will close by December 2009. But of one thing the Baptist minister is certain: God will be there for them. “God […]

c. 2008 Religion News Service

WYOMING, Mich. _ David Karel does not know what comes next for him and his 1,500 fellow workers at the GM metal stamping plant, following last week’s announcement it will close by December 2009.

But of one thing the Baptist minister is certain: God will be there for them.

“God is the one who can provide for us, if we allow him to do it,” Karel said, standing outside the plant in a steady rain. “If we put him first, he says everything else will be taken care of.”

Karel tries to reassure his coworkers of that as they struggle with the shock of the 72-year-old plant’s closing. As a volunteer chaplain for UAW Local 730, he is helping workers cope with the devastating news from a spiritual perspective.

“I say our faith is not in General Motors,” said Karel, 59, a GM employee for 25 years. “It’s in God. Nothing surprises him, and we know he will provide a way for us, no matter what.”

Along with John Lemery, also a trained chaplain, Karel tends to the emotional and spiritual problems of fellow workers in addition to his job. Karel is a tractor-repair mechanic, Lemery an electrician.

Karel, an interim minister at Byron Center Baptist Church, heads the chaplaincy program. He and Lemery are available to help calm workers in crisis situations, talk informally about their problems and, if asked, pray with them. They also attend funerals of fellow or retired workers.

This week, they’re mostly just there to listen.

“Everybody is basically in shock mode,” said Lemery, 61, a 29-year employee. “They’re reeling. They’re saying, `Holy cow, is this really happening?”’

Although he was hoping to work at the plant until he retires, Lemery takes the closure philosophically.

“My life, whether I live or I die, is the Lord’s,” he said. “It’s a very easy way to live.”

But it’s been a very hard week for workers who prided themselves on their plant’s productivity. Karel said it feels much like a funeral.

“Even today, they’re still struggling,” he said after his shift ended. “We’re waiting for somebody to tell us what’s next.”

Will the plant close before December ’09? How many workers will be cut before then? Will there be buyouts or a jobs bank? Many asking those questions already have been displaced from other closed plants, Karel noted.

“Now, they’re all facing this again,” Karel said. “But, now, there’s no place to go. Our whole economy is crashing around us.”

He faces that insecurity, too, hoping he can stay until he turns 60 in June and qualifies for full retirement benefits. But he says God has seen him through adversity before.

The Vietnam veteran was laid off from GM’s diesel plant for two years, and he and his wife got by with no insurance until he was hired at the metal stamping plant.

“God has always taken care of us,” he said firmly.

(Charles Honey writes for The Grand Rapids Press in Grand Rapids, Mich.)

KRE/LF END HONEY500 words

A photo of Karel and Lemery is available via https://religionnews.com.