The long-haired stranger sat up front in the intimate chapel for the 8:15 a.m. casual service last Sunday at Elam United Methodist Church in Glen Mills. For the more traditional 9:30 a.m. worship, she moved to the back of the sanctuary.
For six years, Liz Randolph had lived in an upscale apartment complex near the church.
In the daily race from hither to yon, she often paused to digest Elam's roadside blessing, Peace to all who pass by. But the busy lawyer, broadcaster, and single mother never ventured inside before the recession rendered her jobless, carless, and homeless.
Dazed but determined, she says, "I prayed and got a sense I needed to come here and stay."
Pastor John Inghram doesn't have many congregants sitting through a double feature. As they spoke after the services, Randolph seemed eerily familiar as she shared a secret that ministers in affluent suburbs rarely hear:
"I've lost everything."
Inghram, formerly of Western Pennsylvania, quickly realized how he knew Randolph: She had briefly been a national headline and gender icon.
In the 1980s, Randolph worked as news director for The Quinn and Banana Show on WBZZ in Pittsburgh, enduring on-air sexual harassment from raunchy male DJs. After one humiliating skit, she finally walked off the job and sued. A jury awarded her $700,000, but the case was appealed and later settled out of court.
Randolph told the preacher she then traded radio for the law, working as a defense attorney before moving east with her daughter, an academic whiz named Haley.
"My story is typical of this lingering recession," Randolph concedes in a church lounge. "I've worked nonstop for 40 years. This is unprecedented. It's humbling."
In 2009, Randolph was downsized from a six-figure grants-director job at a philanthropy in Delaware - where she was shocked to learn unemployment compensation maxes out at $330 a week.
'Weather the storm'
"I had savings. I had a 401(k). I was organized," she says. "I thought I could weather the storm."
Randolph applied for hundreds of jobs. She sold women's clothing, freelanced radio stories, and grabbed paralegal work when she could get it, but often earned just $10 an hour. Even juggling four menial jobs at once, her nest egg broke.
She gave up unemployment to open a private practice that never took off, then jumped at a position reviewing legal documents at Oracle that proved intellectually stimulating but short-lived.
In April, after selling everything except family photos, Randolph was evicted. Haley moved in with friends and accepted help to attend her prom. (Haley's father paid child support until she turned 18 but is not involved in her life.)
In May, Randolph's 2009 Toyota Corolla was repossessed. To see her daughter graduate as Garnet Valley High's 2012 valedictorian, Randolph had to hitch a ride with Haley's boyfriend.
The face of an era
I ask Inghram how a pastor with a huge heart but limited resources decides whom to help in an era of widespread need among prideful professionals.
"You listen to their story and how they got where they are at that moment," he says. "It's never easy to say no to anyone, but we can't say yes to everyone."
Randolph didn't ask for anything besides a ride to a shelter, which is a big reason Inghram tapped Elam's "Benevolence Fund" to pay to put her up in a motel.
"This courageous woman," Inghram says of Randolph, "is the face of a whole lot of people really struggling who don't meet the stereotype given the success she's had."
For at least a week, she can focus - on her job search, on how to send Haley to Penn State without the money to buy extra-long sheets, a laptop, or the partial tuition the gods in the financial-aid office insist a destitute parent can afford.
Contact Monica Yant Kinney
at 215-854-4670, firstname.lastname@example.org, or @myantkinney on Twitter.