A call for congregations to observe Labor Sabbath

Jul. 24, 2014 @ 09:27 AM

On Labor Day weekend, Amy Laura Hall wants the words “labor union” to be shared during religious services during a sermon, song or prayer by a clergyperson or layperson.

She’s leading the effort in Durham for the words to be used at a service Friday, Saturday or Sunday, and for this to be the first of 10 years of a Labor Sabbath.
The local Labor Sabbath sprung from a similar effort by the Chicago-based Interfaith Worker Justice group, which called for clergy to talk about labor from the pulpit. Calling it Labor Sabbath broadens the place and day the words are used, Hall said.
There’s a stigma around labor unions, especially in North Carolina, she said. “Even progressive churches have trouble using ‘labor union.’”
The Rev. Ginger Brasher-Cunningham, pastor of Pilgrim United Church of Christ, said the words “labor union” will come naturally to her church, because as part of the UCC, addressing justice is part of who they are. Pilgrim UCC is planning to include “labor union” in a sermon, song or prayer Labor Day weekend, and Hall said others have shown interest, too. Labor Day is on Sept. 1 this year.
Hall said the history of North Carolina’s mill towns is that often the mill would hire the preacher, “so you wouldn’t have people preaching about worker rights, certainly.”
Hall’s mother was a public school teacher and her father was a Methodist minister. Hall was a union organizer while a graduate student at Yale University. She currently is an associate professor of Christian ethics at Duke Divinity School and an ordained elder in the United Methodist Church.
Workers’ rights have also been the topic of recent monthly meetings of Durham Congregations In Action, a group of about 60 congregations who collaborate on social justice projects. The DCIA focus is unrelated, but Hall’s organizing of the Labor Sabbath was shared at last month’s DCIA meeting.
“I’m trying to get the conversation started,” Hall said. She wants the effort to be collaborative rather than just her pushing it. The website she created, laborsabbath.org, will be a place for congregations to share experiences and resources this Labor Day sabbath and plan for future years.
As far as the religious basis for supporting labor unions, Hall said, it is “if you have a sense that God doesn’t want people used as tools.”
“Collective bargaining is a critical way, in the U.S., that workers have insisted on being treated as people of God, not tools,” Hall said.
Brasher-Cunningham said it’s about Micah 6:8: “What does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God.”
“We sometimes get caught in culture wars instead of looking at ways to empower one another,” Brasher-Cunningham said.
Hall said that people want to be able to provide for their families and work with dignity.
“I’m called to walk humbly with my Lord and speak up when people are treating me as if I don’t have dignity,” she said. “Solidarity is the notion we walk humbly with our Lord, together, side by side, and walk together with dignity.”
Churches are comfortable saying “the poor,” Hall said, but what about “collective bargaining?”

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