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Some Churches Include Labor Issues in Service

On holiday weekend, sermons address the L.A. hotel workers' ongoing dispute.

September 06, 2004|Daniel Hernandez | Times Staff Writer

Labor Day-related religious services were held across the city Sunday as some ministers and priests made an effort to express solidarity with the workers involved in the ongoing Los Angeles hotel labor dispute. Hotel workers were scheduled to speak at services at several churches, including Methodist, Lutheran, Congregational and Unitarian places of worship.

The 11 a.m. service at the Holy Faith Episcopal Church in Inglewood featured a special Labor Day litany prayer.

"We pray for those without jobs," the lay Eucharistic minister read from a dais. "This Labor Day weekend there are over -- "

"Eight million Americans who are officially unemployed," the congregation read in unison.

"We lift up all employers -- "

"That they may be just and fair with all their employees," the congregation said.

No hotel worker attended the service at Holy Faith. Yet the Rev. Altagracia Perez, a leader in the coalition to defeat Wal-Mart's bid to open a Supercenter in Inglewood, used her sermon to remind the congregation that showing compassion for the working poor is a central theme of the Gospels.

"On this weekend that we celebrate Labor Day, it is worth it to think of our ministry of compassion," Perez said.

The labor dispute, she said, citing cost-of-living statistics and chief executives' salaries, "is an example of the struggle between David and Goliath."

Negotiations are ongoing between the hotel workers union and nine upscale hotels in Los Angeles. The impasse is rooted in a disagreement over the length of a proposed contract.

Workers have staged large demonstrations downtown, getting support from some religious leaders.

Holy Faith is a diverse church, Perez said later, more so than previous churches she has led where the members have been mostly working class.

In Inglewood, she said, "I have conservative and liberal members. I have Republicans.... I find myself having to preach about it in a different way, that this is not activism, this is the Gospel," said Perez, a native of New York.

Last year, some church members complained when Perez aggressively addressed labor issues in her sermon.

But different ideologies did not hinder the goodwill among church members or toward Perez, who hugged and greeted congregants as friends.

"It's refreshing to have a priest that's involved," said Emilie Klusmeyer, 22, an Episcopal ministry intern from West Virginia. "It keeps us mindful of what's going on."

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