First Congregational Church of Kent e-Spire
Volume 4, Number 27
September 2, 2023
Before our main event, a brief reminder, and a coming attraction.
The brief reminder, is that we will be observing Rally Sunday next Sunday, the 10th. The service marks the beginning of a new program year here at church, and we’ll be welcoming back our Sunday School, and welcoming new church members! And if that’s not enough, there’s even a picnic after church!
The coming attraction is our annual “Tortillas for Tupasenti” fundraiser, which, as always, benefits the Children’s Rescue Mission in Tupasenti, Honduras. You’ll be hearing a lot more from me and our Outreach Committee about this in the coming weeks, but I want to take a moment to make sure you’re aware of it, and to ask you to consider your pledge to support Tortillas for Tupansenti this year.
And now for our Main Event.
Well, the calendar has turned to September, and Fall is more or less upon us. (although according to the weather forecasters, the coming week is supposed to feel a lot more like July than October). Oh sure, if you look at a calendar, it will tell you that its Summer until the 21st, but we all know that when the kids go back to school, and teams start playing football games that count (which should only be in September, NEVER, as I mentioned last week, in August), and Labor Day Rolls around, its time for Summer to hit the bricks, and Fall to make its annual appearance.
Which brings up a question: Where the heck did Labor Day come from, anyway? In some ways, its the odd man out of your federal holidays, because most celebrate big events in American history, like Independence Day; or the service and sacrifice of those who’ve served their country, like Memorial Day or Veteran’s Day; or people whose exploits are worth remembering, like Martin Luther King Day or President’s Day (and just as an aside, I’m still a little steamed that Washington and Lincoln lost their birthdays, and just got jammed in with all the other presidents), but Labor Day is about . . . work? What gives?
Well, to understand where Labor Day came from, we need to set the Wayback Machine for New York City in 1887.
The organized labor movement had been growing in fits and starts since 1842, when the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court’s decision in Commonwealth v. Hunt made the concept of labor unions legal. It turned out, however, that while theoretical legality was all well and good, actually organizing working people into a real, functioning union was a lot harder. In fact, no one even tried organizing a national labor union until 1866, when the National Labor Union was founded. However, management opposition to unions was intense, and the NLU collapsed in 1872. But before it died, it saw the founding of the Knights of Labor, the first effective American labor union, in 1869. The Knights led the first effective strikes in American labor history, and remained one of America’s most effective unions until they were replaced as America’s leading union by the American Federation of Labor in 1949.
Which brings us to New York City in 1887, because it there and then that the Knights of Labor and the local Central Labor Union organized the first Labor Day Parade and first called for a national holiday recognizing the contributions of working men and women to the nation. Why did they pick the first weekend in September for their parade? For reasons we might recognize–the kids were back in school, the weather was better in September than in July and August, and it was about halfway between Independence Day and Thanksgiving. The day was a success, with a big parade down Fifth Avenue, picnics, and speeches from labor leaders and public officials–just like today, when you think about it.
Labor Day parades became popular almost at once, and the first state to recognize Labor Day as a public holiday was ever-progressive Oregon, which did so even before the first parade, in February of that year. And where Oregon led, other states followed. Four more states enacted their own Labor Days in 1887, and by 1900 twenty-five other sates had done so as well. So did the Federal Government, which made Labor Day a holiday (although only for federal employees at first) in 1894, as part of the Federal Governments response to the Pullman Strike. I don’t have time to go into the Pullman Strike right now, but since its one of the most important events in American Labor history, you really should look it up, if you’re not familiar with it. Labor Day didn’t become a true national holiday, though, until FDR gave everybody the day off during the New Deal.
Except, of course, for those people who have to work on Labor Day. Retail and foodservice employees labor on Labor Day, and so do public safety personnel, hospital workers–in fact, there are lots of folks who work on Labor Day. So, if you’re one of the lucky ones who gets Monday off, while you enjoying your picnic, or your ball game, or a bit of bargain-shopping, why don’t you take some time to remember all the hard-working men and women who made our nation what it is today–and if you’re out at shopping or at a restaurant, why not be extra nice to people who have to work?
Our Hymn of the Week for this week is one that will be new to almost all of us, including me, The Summons. The hymn is a contemporary one, as it was written by the Scotsman John L. Bell in 1987. Bell wrote the hymn upon his becoming a member of a fascinating outfit called The Iona Community, an ecumenical spiritual community of Christians all over the world, which has its spiritual home at the ancient Abbey of Iona in Scotland, the ancient home of Scottish Christianity. You might call the hymn a “call and response” hymn of a sort, because the first four stanzas are based on the words of Jesus calling his disciples, and the final verse is the disciple’s response.
The hymn was written for the traditional Scottish tune “Kelvingrove,” which dates back to at least the very early 18th Century, when it was used for a song that was, well, a little strong for singing in church, let’s say.
Fortunately, Bell dressed the tune up for church with his hymn, so now we can all enjoy a bit of traditional Scottish balladry without having to blush!