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Sunday, January 25, 2009

The sanctuary of the Unitarian Universalist Church of Nashua, NH, was packed and you could feel the excitement in the air. Unitarian Universalist Association (UUA) President Rev. William G. Sinkford was delivering a living wage sermon as part of the UUA Action of the Month on Living Wages and the national Let Justice Roll Living Wage Days and he was recognizing the work the Nashua congregation has been involved in to raise New Hampshire’s minimum wage and support low-wage workers and their families. Every component of the service, and the follow-up discussion, united the organizing work for this justice initiative to raise the federal minimum wage to $10 in 2010 with its religious grounds, proclaiming, over and over, that the need for a living wage is a faith issue.

The service began with the opening hymn “River in Judea” and a chalice lighting quoting Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s words in support of striking sanitation workers in Memphis the day before he was murdered. Rev. Steve Edington, minister of the Nashua congregation, offered words for reflection and read “Blessed are the Just” by Rev. Richard Gilbert, a Unitarian Universalist (UU) minister known for his social justice ministry.

Rev. Sinkford’s sermon, “Living Faithfully—Working for a Living Wage,” (PDF) addressed the “culture of obscene greed” that has flourished in the last few decades in our country with “CEOs making in a few minutes what low-wage workers make in a year.” He characterized the work to establish a national living wage as “holding up a vision through our prophetic voice for justice to our beloved community.” Much of the sermon addressed a new day in the United States—a time when we are invited to be “part of a new governing coalition…a time of great hope and of great anxiety.”

Rev. Sinkford urged us not to act from anxiety but from hope and creativity. “The economic model of an unregulated market is bankrupt, quite literally. The task before us now is to create a new economy based on a sound minimum wage policy, tax policy, investment policy, and energy policy.” In the discussion following the service, he also named immigration policy and health care policy as pieces of the new sustainable economy we need to create. He underscored that these are the conversations we need to be having and the role of people of faith in these conversations and coalitions. “Unitarian Universalists are in the perfect social location to be in solidarity with low-wage workers and their families and to help bring their voice to the tables where policies are made.”

Sinkford’s sermon was followed by a Pledge of Commitment that was inserted in the Order of Service to support the Let Justice Roll $10 in 2010 Campaign. Over 100 pledge cards to sign the Letter to Congress were collected, with the congregation's ministerial, board, and social justice leadership having already signed on to the effort. An outreach collection was taken to support the UUA’s work for Living Wages. The closing hymn, “We’ll Build a Land,” was sung, and the line “Let justice roll down like waters, and peace like an everlasting stream,” resonated in an even deeper way than usual.

The service was followed by lively activity at the social justice council table which held Let Justice Roll literature and sign-up sheets for follow-up activities. A ‘talk back’ discussion with President Sinkford was moderated by social justice council member Bob Keating who, along with Rev. Edington, represents the congregation in the Granite State Organizing Project (GSOP), a congregation-based community organization (CBCO) that organizes with low-wage workers and immigrants in New Hampshire cities. Among the fifty people at the discussion were members Tess and Adrian George, who work with the UU Action Network of New Hampshire that helped raised the New Hampshire minimum wage to $7.25 last year. Several people identified themselves as small business people who pay a living wage and who were glad to see that Let Justice Roll is partnering with Business for a Fair Minimum Wage.

The discussion ended with a commitment from the congregation’s president Laurie Goodman and the social justice council to hold community educational forums on the issue, meet with their congressional representative, and write to their Senators. The group agreed with President Sinkford that from their ties with GSOP, the UU Action Network of New Hampshire, the business community, and policy makers, as people of faith they are uniquely poised to strengthen the Let Justice Roll coalition of faith, labor, and business that can help end poverty wages in the United States.

Several other UU congregations, from Santa Barbara, CA; Atlanta, GA; Chicago, IL; Nashville, TN; and more participated in the Living Wage January Action of the Month.

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