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Listening To Working Class Folks

Listening To Working Class Folks June 17, 2021

The Working Class has spoken. They spoke in 2016 and 2020. But are we listening? The biggest problem for churches that I see is that we ignore working class people. Yep. It’s the people in the trailer parks, low income neighborhoods, and rural areas working for wages who are crying out. We fail to hear them. Why? It’s simple. Churches want and must have middle class people to pay for everything. Every value the churches stand for during our holiday cycles reflect middle class or bourgeois values.  They are not the values of Jesus. I have some ways we can begin listening.

Working Class Clergy

Clergy are drawn from all classes in history. Recently, our clergy have been drawn from the professional class. We often joke that in my own denomination UMC stands for Upper Middle Class. Still many clergy (like me) come from working class backgrounds.

There is a need too for some pastors (at least) to be bi-vocational. I once served a church and worked a blue collar job. I believe this experienced made me a better pastor to my congregations. The hours worked were horrible. I never worked so hard in my life. There are many drawbacks to this arrangement.

Ministry is considered a profession for the most part. Protestant churches rarely consider ministry a vocation. Pastors are asked to get an expensive professional Master’s degree-level education. Many people do not have the outside resources of families to help sustain us while we get these degrees. Those who do often cannot connect with working class communities. Clergy need to know what it is to live in the wage-earning world.

Learning to Work As The People Do

My family learned to raise vegetables, to do home canning, and preserve food in other ways. While living in rural communities we learned the skills of the rural community. We lived as the community members lived. We learned the culture of work in rural communities.

The first lesson I received in this method-acting approach to ministry was when I helped reunite a newly born calf with her mother. Somehow during the stormy night before, the calf got to the wrong side of the fence and could not get back across. I found a way to get her back to mom. I joked with the farmer next door the “little roan one is mine because I saved her life.” Later, a woman confided in me the farmers decided “the Pastor will work.” It was good politics it seems.

Clergy learn to see with eyes that differ from any other person. We are educated people who can learn the ways of people with less schooling. Pastors have the potential to see what neither the professional nor the worker sees. This quality helps us to advocate.

A Lesson From Wesley

Today is the birthday of John Wesley. His ministry in England was during the tumultuous period of many revolutions. He realized the enclosures and Industrial Revolution were dehumanizing the new working class. Being the son of an Anglican Priest who had seen the inside of debtor’s prison, he knew the unfairness of the situation many lower middle and working class people suffered.

Wesley knew the established church was not inclined to help. And often supported laws designed to persecute the working class and the poor. His approach was to beg along with people in need. In order to reach out to working class people, he disobeyed church rules on parish boundaries and “proper order.”

Working Class (Ad)Vocation

The words vocation and advocacy are related. “Vocational training” as an educational form has come back into style. One can hope this new interest in training people for the trades will bring about a new desire to form unions. Better working conditions, universal health insurance, and higher wages for the working class would help churches considerably financially and provide stability.

We first must listen in order to advocate. Find out who working people are and don’t cringe at their attitudes and lives. Be people who working class folks believe welcome them, all of them. Value the workers and their work. Part of being children of God is being children of God together.


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