Of God, workers and fowl


Katy and I drove from Washington D.C. to Indianapolis and back this Thanksgiving. This morning as we drove through central Ohio on way back to Indy we listened to This American Life’s Poultry Slam 2008; their tribute to all things fowl as Americans prepare their holiday meals.

It was a great way to spend an hour and the stories, or acts in This American Life parlance, all centered around birds and God.

The story that stuck out to me most was the act called “A Pastor and his flock.”  I’m a sucker for stories about the intersection of the labor movement and church and this was a powerful story.  Rector Bruce Walker at Grace Episcopal Church in Morganton, North Carolina, was asked by organizers at the Western Carolina Worker’s Center to get involved in a struggle between workers and management at nearby Case Farms.  The workers at Case Farms, a gigantic chicken processing facility, were organizing a union and Ken Wilson, the head of public relations and mouth piece for the vicious antiunion campaign for Case Farms, was a member at Grace.

(For more information about the struggle, check out Barry Yeoman’s Spiritual Union or read The Maya of Morganton, written by UNC Labor professor Leon Fink.)

Even though Walker was relatively new to town, none of the workers at Case Farms (mostly Guatamalan immigrants) worshipped at Grace and that Walker was part of the solidly middle-class congregation, the rector sided with the workers.  He tried to get his congregant to start rethinking his stance and role.  Wilson was a little angry when his pastor showed up on the day of the union election and he soon quit the church and moved out of town.

Though the church lost a tither that day, the low wage poultry workers of Morganton gained a friend and ally.  When asked if he had any regrets, Rector Walker only regretted that he hadn’t done more.

Its a story every pastor  and his or her flock should here.  Hopefully, the members at Grace are proud of their pastor who knows the difference between cheap and costly grace.



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