St. Louis – Not only do labor and people of faith have a lot in common, but to a great extent, they are the very same people.
That’s the idea behind “Labor in the Pulpits/on the Bimah/in the Minbar,” an annual opportunity for labor and faith activists to come together, find out what their common concerns are and work toward addressing them.
Ten years since the first such event here, the project is still growing. This year’s dates are Friday, Aug. 29 through Monday, Sept. 1, which is Labor Day.
Participating churches and faith groups will be given access to labor speakers and a wide range of worship materials such as prayers, litanies and lessons. More information is available online at www.mojwj.org or by calling 314-644-0466.
The event is sponsored statewide by Missouri Jobs With Justice (JwJ), and is being led this year by the Rev. Dr. Martin Rafanan co-chair of the JwJ Worker Rights Board, and the Rev. Teresa Danieley, JwJ faith co-chair and pastor of St. John’s Episcopal Church in St. Louis.
So far, about 65 faith groups have signed up. Nationally, the project is run by Interfaith Worker Justice, at www.iwj.org.
THE FIRST STEP
Rafanan said faith leaders can participate in any way they feel comfortable.
“Labor in the Pulpits is a starting point,” he told the Labor Tribune. “It’s doing what faith folks should do, which is to pray for one another and pay attention to what actually is happening in their lives.
Several churches have already requested labor leaders to serve as guest speakers, and Rafanan expects to receive more requests.
“Labor in the Pulpits is a tremendous opportunity for faith and labor leaders to actually come together, learn about each other, work together, see where their mutual interests lie, and then work together to achieve that interest in the community,” he said.
Some church members may be uncomfortable with a project linked to the labor movement, but Rafanan says it is really about the relationship between members’ work and their faith.
“Even if they don’t have a job, they’re working at home or going to school,” he said. “You should reflect on how that work is an expression of faith. This is important for your faith community, and has nothing necessarily to do with workers’ rights. It starts by thinking about the basics of the dignity of labor.”
CONNECTING FAITH TO ACTION
The concept of “Labor in the Pulpits” was introduced in 1996 and has been especially popular in Chicago.
Danieley has been working with the project for 15 years, going back to her own years in Chicago, and she has had a variety of special speakers in her church. This year’s guest speaker is a member of the church who is also a member of the Communication Workers of America.
“It’s important to connect our faith values to our actions,” Danieley said. “Most of us spend most of our lives working. It’s something that most people have in common.”
In addition, church members will bring items symbolic of their jobs, and the symbols will be displayed during the service. Even the bulletin will include messages about work and faith.
“That’s reaching people who haven’t been reached before,” she said.
Labor Day was founded in the 19th century with both labor and religious support.
It’s no coincidence that Labor in the Pulpit coincides with that national holiday, she said.
“It’s to bring back that connection – and put faith and labor to work for justice,” she said.
‘TALKING STRONG FOR LABOR’
When a faith group participates in “Labor in the Pulpit” or another Jobs With Justice program, the Faith/Labor Alliance and its annual breakfast, leaders can expect other opportunities to actively support worker members of their congregations.
For instance, during this year’s legislative session in Missouri, about 160 faith leaders signed a letter opposing “right-to-work” legislation. Rafanan presented the letter during a hearing in Jefferson City.
“We need community folks talking strong for labor,” he said. “We need our faith allies, community allies, student allies and academic allies getting real on this, and understanding their own self-interest in relationship to it and being strong in their voice.”
One recent example of faith leaders using their moral authority to help their worker/members was in the pension/healthcare fight with Peabody Coal, in which corporate machinations were used to scuttle the pension and health benefits of retired miners.
As United Mine Workers leaders and members campaigned outside the company headquarters in St. Louis, many members of the clergy played a vital role, speaking up for the workers and even getting arrested along with the union leaders
“The moral voice on that was powerful,” Rafanan said. “We lost in court everywhere. We lost, lost and lost.
“The moral story had to get to the street. We had five clergy in every courtroom. We had them going to jail.”
Ultimately, the company agreed to provide more than $400 million to cover future health care benefits for retirees.
“They didn’t have to do that, but the moral pressure was getting to them,” Rafanan said.
Religious leaders have also played an important role in the struggle of fast-food workers striking and demonstrating for higher pay and better treatment on the job, escorting them back to work to discuss their rights with their managers and prevent them from getting fired on the spot.
“Once you’ve done that, you’re hooked for life,” Rafanan said. “The issue here is to get our faith communities engaged and also to make sure we connect with those faith leaders and move forward.”
HOW TO PARTICIPATE
To participate in Labor in the Pulpits/on the Bimah/in the Minbar, or to make a donation, go online to www.mojwj.org.
Religious leaders can contact Pastor Teresa Danieley, Faith Committee co-chair for Missouri Jobs with Justice, at firstname.lastname@example.org.