I attend church almost every Sunday morning. Not everybody is able to do this.
Nowadays many people are forced to work on Sunday mornings or work on flextime schedules so that they don’t know whether their Sunday mornings will be free or not. And even more are unable to have an old-fashioned Sunday dinner with family or spend Sundays visiting relatives and family friends.
I hadn’t given much thought to this until it was pointed out this Sunday morning by Peter House, who serves as summer minister at First Universalist Church of Rochester NY.
Peter grew up in one of those families of whom members say later, “We were poor, but we were happy, because we didn’t know we were poor.” His mother was a poor widow who supported the family by working in a retail store.
When he was a boy, Sundays were spent going to church, visiting relatives, paying respects at the cemetery to deceased loved ones, and eating family meals.
This started to erode when he was in his early teens, with the repeal of the Sunday blue laws and the coming of big box retail stores. Churches adapted by holding multiple Sunday services and even Saturday evening services, but it was no long possible for his family to count on all being together at the same time on Sunday. His mother was sometimes free on Sunday mornings, but no longer could be sure of knowing when.
Traditional holidays are being broken down as well. Black Friday means that store employees have to cut short their Thanksgiving in order to be read to open at 5 a.m. or even midnight. Now Walmart opens all day on Thanksgiving.
Peter’s weekday job is teacher of special needs children. As part of an effort to teach social skills to children, he once talked to six of his students about Thanksgiving. Five of the six had mothers who had to work on Thanksgiving Day. Some of them didn’t know what a traditional Thanksgiving meal consisted of. One thought Thanksgiving dinner was hot dogs cut up into macaroni and cheese.
The teachers’ aides at his school, many of them women of color, have to moonlight at other jobs, often big-box retailers. Many miss not being able to cook holiday meals for their families. But the reality of employment in 21st century America is that they can’t.