Class is not about income.
Class is not about education.
Class is not about manners or gentility.
A class is a group of people who have had shared a similar life experience in economic life, enough so that it has shaped their worldview. Classes are shaped by history, and the consciousness that they create persist through generations, even though the formative experiences may have faded, or have been transformed by memory.
Remember the Republican convention of 2012. Who can forget such good times? Speaker after speaker describes the story of their family over generations. The usual elements were the ancestor who came from Europe with nothing, but a strong back and skilled hands, and how he worked hard, and made enough money to rise up the ladder, and then the war, and a more education and all culminating in me, a greasy lawyer/politician sleazeball who has turned myself into a corporate spokesmodel for the Koch brothers. Yay America!
That story is the story of a class, and an expression of a particular kind of class consciousness. It is the life story of lots and lots of early 20th century European immigrants, many of whom did rise into more prosperity and out of the factories with the help of government supported education. Many turned out better people than Rick Santorum. In fact, a small number of them, got the education bug, and became UU's, in the perpetual process of re-invention.
A particular consciousness that arises out of that particular class experience: the possibility of material success, the importance of gratification deferred unto the next generation, the value of education.
It's a different consciousness than the story I heard told by a Detroit preacher/musician. His people came up from Mississippi, came to Detroit, the "promised land of the working man" and worked in the auto plants, and then the plants left and now he pastors a small church, and plays blues and gospels in folk music venues in Ann Arbor. I won't try to characterize how he understands the way the world works, except to say that it must be very different than Rick Santorum's.
Don't look at your tax return, or your diploma, or your present lifestyle to understand your class and class consciousness.
Look at your grandparents, first of all. What was the story of their life, their experience in the world? How did they survive? Your parents observed their parent's lives, and passed down to you what lessons they drew from those lives. And when you heard that history and lessons, you took them in as God's honest truth -- an accurate description of the way the world works, and what you must do to survive. You've been testing those propositions ever since, and drawing your own conclusions.
My grandparents were born in isolated German Anabaptist communities. Through seminary education, and assimilation into the mainstream, and urbanization, and the joining of the German Baptists into the American Baptists, they became successful, even prominent Baptist ministers. However, my parents each saw the underside of that life, but my father tried and failed at that profession. Along the way, he furthered that assimilation trajectory by becoming a Unitarian (1947). He then worked in a steel mill until that went the way of heavy industry in the US.
Of course, I carry this story with me. I carry a lot the attitudes of the intellectual meritocracy (which is what ministry really is), but I also know how fragile that can be. Growing up in Youngstown also teaches a powerful lesson in how much one's life is dependent on things outside of one's control. (Which is why I resonate with NOLA and Detroit.) But enough about me....
You want to start to deal with class in church? Start with where you are, and where others are. Get off these blanket and moralistic stereotypes. Once you know your own story, you will start to appreciate the differences between the people inside the church and many of those outside, especially those who live the lives of the working poor.
I am particularly interested in hearing how joining, or staying in, a UU church fits into the multi-generational story of your family. In what way was it a break with the story -- trying to find a new way -- and in what ways was it a continuation of some of themes of that story? Leave your story in the comments.