From supporting workers who sought unionization to advocacy work following the on-the-job deaths of two construction workers, Church of the Savior UCC wants to raise awareness for economic justice issues in east Tennessee.
The Knoxville, Tenn., congregation is closer to reaching that goal now that the church is the new home for an Interfaith Worker Justice center serving the eastern Tennessee area.
"This is one step we are taking to bring greater focus to our efforts in the area of economic justice," said the Rev. John Gill, senior pastor for Church of the Savior.
For the last year, Church of the Savior has talked about becoming actively involved in the UCC's Economic Justice Covenant, which was approved at the 2009 General Synod.
"[We're] rich in our life as a community of faith," he said. "It's not hard to exist in your own bubble. The involvement helps us become aware of the realities of others in our community … and work with them in their efforts."
Church of the Savior has worked with IWJ in the area since 2005, and was part of several successful campaigns:
- Members supported immigrant workers seeing to be unionized in a chicken processing plant in Morristown, Tenn., as reported by the New York Times.
- They stood with local school janitors whose jobs were set to be outsourced.
- They were part of a memorial service and rallies to increase awareness of safety issues that resulted in the death of two workers during construction of a Knoxville bridge. That story appeared on CBS-affiliate WVLT's website.
Edie Rasell, the UCC's Minister for Economic Justice, said workers are under siege across the country. Wages have been stagnant or falling for 40 years, benefits are disappearing or becoming more expensive, and in lower paying jobs some workers aren't paid for all the hours they work.
"Few workers have unions that might be able to fix some of these problems, and workers who try to form unions are too often harassed, penalized by their employer, and even fired," Rasell said. "All workers deserve fair pay and benefits, decent and safe working conditions, and respect. People of God are called to stand with and support workers to help them get fair treatment. I thank God for Church of the Savior's courage and commitment to justice. They are doing a wonderful and much-needed ministry among workers in Knoxville."
Gill said the church has a history of local involvement with interfaith justice groups, including IWJ and Justice with Jobs, but it would like to expand and develop an institutional base for informational purposes and create more opportunities for the congregation to be involved.
"There's a sense of growing inequity (in society), and it can be hard to find concrete ways to respond, but the IWJ-JWJ outlets can provide some options to make a difference," Gill said. "There's a real potential for common good, for justice equality."
Gill said so far there are about 40 religious leaders on board with the idea, and four to five organizations are active in an official capacity. "We have hopes of expanding our circle of faith community," Gill said.
To learn more about the the UCC's Economic Justice programs, visit the Justice and Witness Ministries website.