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September 6, 2020 | Online Worship

Recording of our September 6, 2020 online worship service

Worship manuscript:


This is the original work of the Reverend Mandy Beal (mandy.beal@bucmi.org), unless otherwise attributed.


Welcome


Good morning, and welcome to Birmingham Unitarian Church! I am the Reverend Mandy Beal, this congregation’s Senior Minister. I am joined in worship leadership by Worship Associate Tom Raffel along with our Accompanist, Forrest Howell. We also have technical support from our Communications Coordinator, Sara Constantakis and Zoom Greeter Drieka DeGraff.


BUC is a spiritual home for all people of good will. We believe in justice and hospitality and have earned such designations from the Unitarian Universalist Association. We are a Welcoming Congregation, a term that means we are intentionally inclusive of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer individuals and families. We are also a Green Sanctuary Congregation, which means that we have educated ourselves and taken action to protect our environment. Our commitment to both of these programs was renewed in this year. And although there is no such designation for racial justice, we are deeply committed to that work, as well.


Our worship services are hosted on Zoom every Sunday morning at 10:30 and then later posted on Facebook. After the service, we invite you to stay for a virtual coffee hour. You will be randomly sorted into breakout groups and we hope that you’ll participate in this opportunity to connect with others. If you are worshiping us for the first time today, we extend a special welcome to you. We hope that you’ll stay after the service and get to know us.


We have two announcements this morning:


First, our 2020-2021 religious education program is about to launch. Classes begin September 20th for Kindergarten through 12th grade. Check the BUC website for program descriptions and to register your kids. Also, we need your help spreading the word. Please share this information with families and friends you think would like to participate. Contact RE Coordinator Nico Van Ostrand at with questions.


Second: Homecoming Sunday is next week, including a virtual Water Communion. Everyone is invited to make a sign with water droplets, or in the shape of a water droplet, with your answer to the prompt: "I am...” then fill in the blank. Examples might include "I am hopeful” or "I am awesome." Take a photo of your sign and send it to resident video wizard Kurtis Zetouna by this Thursday, September 10th. If you'd like your name on your sign, please write it on the sign before you photograph it. See your weekly email update for complete details.


Thank you, again, for joining us this morning, or whenever you’re watching this. Although we are not together physically, we are together in spirit, and it is good to be together again.


And with that, our service will begin.


Chalice Lighting


We worship from our separate homes, but we are joined by a multitude of Unitarian Universalists in lighting our chalice with words from Florence Caplow:


In recognition of Labor Day,

we light this flame to honor all work,

Including the work of our hands, hearts, and our backs,

in gratitude for all the labors that support our world,

and for all those who boldly continue the work of justice, equity, and peace.


Opening Words

“Opening Words for Labor Day (adapted),” by Rev. Megan Visser


We enter this meeting for kindness and comfort.

May rough-worn hands and aching backs be healed.

We enter this meeting with hope for equality.

May those who labor to survive live to know justice.

We enter this meeting for love and vocation.

May our bonds of solidarity be strengthened.

We enter this meeting for courage and friendship.

May we proceed hand-in-hand toward freedom.


Offering


During our time of physical distance, our need for one another has become so important. The relationships in this community have been deepened through our worship life, the continuation of our programs, and our fellowship groups. We have found here a support system and a touchstone in a world unsettled.


The care and stewardship of this community is in your hands. Unitarian Universalism is a free faith without a centralized authority. That is a privilege and it is also a responsibility. So let there be an offering for support of this Beloved Community and our good works. Contributions can be made through our website and through Venmo. Invite you to give generously.


Joys and Sorrows


Joy - Ray McCarus - Ray’s birthday was September 3rd. “Today is my 85th birthday. My joy is that I am still alive, and in decent health.”


Worship Associate Reflection

by Tom Raffel


In honor of Labor Day, I wrote this reflection about one of the early heroes of the labor rights movement.


Mary Harris Jones, better known as “Mother Jones”, was a self-proclaimed “hell-raising” activist in the late 19th century. Some called her “the most dangerous woman in America”.


In 1903, Jones visited 75,000 striking textile workers in Kensington, Pennsylvania, including 10,000 children. Many of them were under 12 years old, which at the time was the legal working age. Children worked more than 10 hours per day at a fraction of an adult worker’s pay, often in brutal conditions. Many of the Kensington children had lost fingers or even hands to textile machines.


Mother Jones organized a group of these children for a weeks-long march, a 130-mile journey from Philadelphia to Long Island, where President Theodore Roosevelt had his summer home.


When they reached Coney Island, Mother Jones attracted a crowd by having the children stand in empty animal cages. To the people, she said:


“In Georgia, where children work day and night in the cotton mills, they have just passed a bill to protect songbirds. What about the little children from whom all song is gone? ... I will tell the president that the prosperity he boasts of is the prosperity of the rich wrung from the poor and the helpless.


Jones continued, “The trouble is that no one in Washington cares. I saw our legislators in one hour pass three bills for the relief of the railways, but when labor cries for aid for the children they will not listen. I asked a man in prison once how he happened to be there, and he said he had stolen a pair of shoes. I told him if he had stolen a railroad, he would be a United States Senator.”


When the children arrived at Roosevelt’s home, he refused to meet them, claiming that child labor was a state responsibility. Sadly, the Kensington strike ultimately failed, and those children were sent back to work.


However, Jones celebrated the march as a success, because it brought national attention that eventually led to real changes. Within two years, the Pennsylvania legislature increased the minimum working age to fourteen, prohibited night work for children, and added penalties for falsifying a child’s age.


Mother Jones concluded her autobiography by saying: “… the cause of the worker continues onward. Slowly his hours are shortened, giving him leisure to read and to think.... Slowly the cause of his children becomes the cause of all…. Slowly those who create the wealth of the world are permitted to share it. The future is in labor’s rough, strong hands.”


Mother Jones showed that ordinary citizens can become extraordinary leaders in the fight for social justice. But it’s our fight, too. Many of the issues she fought for, like fair wages, universal education, and safe working conditions, still resonate in the twenty-first century. On this Labor Day, let us commit ourselves to keep fighting for a more just and fair society.


Homily

by Rev. Mandy Beal


I first encountered Mother Jones in my undergraduate education, preparing for a career in social work. I was surprised that I’d never heard of her, and like Tom, I find her a true inspiration. She was barely five feet tall and known for wearing a lace collar and a black hat for almost every appearance. In her later years, she wore round, frameless spectacles that made her look matronly and fierce at the same time. She spoke with an Irish brogue and very much resembled a lot of people’s mamas or grandmamas. Honestly, in her later years, she looks like how I’ve always imagined Mrs. Claus.


Behind her outward persona, she was a force to be reckoned with. At that time, laborers were at the mercy of wealthy industrialists. Mills, factories, mines, railroads, grain and textile mills, railroads, plantations, every industry where the burgeoning working class toiled benefited only the wealthy. Mother Jones was one of the most important champions of the rights of these laborers. She leveraged her motherly image to shame politicians and the affluent, most especially in her work to end the practice of child labor. Could you imagine someone who looked like that marching through town with a parade of children who were starved and disabled due to poor working conditions? And then that parade marching up to your front lawn? These tactics persuaded many a politician and industrialist to soften to the demands of labor unions.


Before becoming known as Mother Jones, Mary Harris Jones experienced several hardships. Her husband, an ironworker, had been active in the labor union movement himself. After he and their children all died of a yellow fever in 1867, Mother Jones’ involvement with labor unions continued and increased. She became a dressmaker in Chicago. She wrote about the extreme disparity in wealth between the people for whom she sewed dresses and the starving impoverished of the city. She later said her employers either “did not notice or care” about the stark contrast between the wealthy and poor.


Jones’ home was destroyed in the Chicago fire of 1871. After that, she began moving around the country to support various labor movements. It should also be noted she lived in Monroe, Michigan for a brief period of time. It seems many of the most powerful women trailblazers lived in Michigan at one point or another in the course of their lives, but I digress.


She was given the nickname “Mother Jones” in June of 1897 after giving an address at a railway union convention. The AFL-CIO estimates tens of thousands of coal mines went on strike that summer. Mother Jones rallied workers to participate in the strike and provided them with support in Pittsburgh. Her work was so effective that the Mine Workers’ Union began sending her on field assignments to enroll new members and agitate strikes throughout the country.


Her unique angle on recruiting workers was to persuade their wives. One of the reasons men were reluctant to join a labor union was the financial impact strikes would have on their families. Mother Jones organized women to march in the streets, brandishing brooms and banging pots, chanting slogans about joining the union. With the support, and perhaps insistence, of their wives, more men felt emboldened to join unions and participate in collective bargaining.


Throughout her extraordinary career, she enjoyed many victories, but she is perhaps best known for the “March of the Mill Children,” which Tom described in his reflection. In 1903, there was no limit to the work day, no mandated time off or breaks, and no regulation of the minimum working age. Most people working in factories, mills, etc worked over 10 hours per day, six days per week. Children worked the same hours as adults, including night shifts, earning a far lower wage.


Because of their small size and lower wages, it was especially common for children to roll cigarettes, pick cotton, sell newspapers, and do some of the most dangerous jobs in coal mines. And, of course, children were considered ideal textile workers because of their small hands. They completed tasks like replacing empty industrial bobbins and mending broken threads. It was no secret then or now that this led to many injuries like lost fingers or entire limbs.


In 1903, an estimated 100,000 silk workers went on strike to demand a 55-hour workweek. Among the strikers were about 16,000 children. Mother Jones organized 100 of these children into a march from Philadelphia to Theodore Roosevelt’s summer home on Long Island. She asked the Philadelphia papers to cover the event, but they declined because the mill owners had stock in most of the papers. She is reported to have replied: “Well, I have stock in these little children and I’ll arrange the publicity.” The entire march was filled with poignant moments like this and those that Tom shared in his reflection. President Roosevelt never met with the marchers, but they captured the mind and hearts of the nation, eventually leading to the reform of child labor laws.


When we consider the influence Mother Jones had on American laws, it’s important to remember that she did this without having the right to vote. The majority of her accomplishments happened before the 19th amendment was ratified in 1920. As she said “you don’t need a vote to raise hell.” Instead, she leveraged her matronly image and the plight of children (in other words, a generous dose of shame) to advance the labor movement. For this she was maligned, called the “most dangerous woman in America” and “the grandmother of all agitators” by governmental officials. She was arrested multiple times, denied outside contact while imprisoned, banned from several cities, and was even charged with a capital offense by a military tribunal, which was later dismissed due to public outcry.


Labor organizers fought and even died for the work schedule we now consider typical and so often take for granted. Robert Owen is widely credited with first proposing the eight-hour workday. He believed workers needed rest and recreation in order to be more productive. He suggested “eight hours for work, eight hours for recreation, and eight hours for rest.” The eight-hour work day became a primary goal of the American labor movement. This was strongly opposed by industrialists, but enough pressure was put on Congress to create labor standards.


The passage of the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938 was a turning point for American workers. Sort of. Antiquated FLSA exemptions for agricultural work allows children to still work long hours in dangerous conditions, especially migrant children. Other workers’ rights have been slowly and relentlessly diluted. Corporations are endlessly creative at taking advantage of the working poor. And, of course legal rights only apply to legal citizens.


The success of the early labor rights movement may not be complete, but its gains should not be dismissed. Many of us are familiar with Eugene V. Debs and Samuel Gompers championing the rights of the workers juxtaposed with the villainy of people like John D. Rockefeller and Andrew Carnegie. We know the names of Debs and Gompers because of their success securing labor rights. But they could not have done that work without Mother Jones giving hope to the unions and pulling at the heartstrings of our nation.


Mother Jones said a lot of outrageous and memorable things. She really mastered the art of the soundbite a hundred or more years before that phrase was ever used. Her slogan, what she was best known for saying was: “Pray for the dead and fight like hell for the living.” Our nation’s experience of the COVID pandemic has once again placed the disparities between the wealthy and the working poor in stark contrast. We have been reminded how much we depend upon those who do the least glamorous, most dangerous work in our nation. We called again to pray for the dead and fight like hell for the living.


On Labor Day, we pause to consider the value of our labor and the labor of others. Labor Day is a remembrance of the brutality of past working conditions and a critical inquiry of the working conditions of our time. It is a celebration of the contributions of Mother Jones and other labor organizers to create a more fair and equitable relationship between those who control the means of production and the workers; the bourgeoisie and the proletariat classes, if you will. In a capitalist society, we must be ever vigilant to this power dynamic and continue to agitate for fair working conditions. Otherwise, the wealthy will always stand on the back of the poor. That work has been handed to us. May we be found equal to the task.




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