Dorothy Hall, an unemployed mother of five, was up before dawn today to attend a sunrise Labor Day worship service in a Baltimore inner-city church. Although she arrived at the church on her crutches with only a hope and a prayer, Hall came away with improved job propsects and the back-to-school shoes she could not afford to buy her young children.
Hall is one of nearly 1,500 -- poor and rich, employed and jobless -- who made their way in the dark to Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church here for a service that, contrary to the day's tradition, was meant for those who are without jobs.
"I refused to celebrate labor on Labor Day when 14 percent of Baltimore's black population are unemployed," said the Rev. John R. Bryant, church pastor. "It's sadistic."
So Bryant, following what he said was a "revelation from the Lord" he had two weeks ago, decided to ease the problem in his own way.
He invited Baltimore's unemployed to "seek the Lord's help" in finding jobs and bolstered their chances by asking the area's employers to come to the service with a can of food, a pair of new children's shoes -- and a job.
The ambitious plan worked surprisingly well. More than 130 unemployed church members and nonmembers registered after the service for 250 job offers that began pouring into the church a week ago when the special service was announced.
Although the service began on a somber note, emotions turned to a fever pitch following a soloist's dramatic outpouring of "Thank You, Lord." Children bounced in their pews and their mothers wept openly during the gospel hymn, as worshippers cried out their thanks along with the soloist.
"Jesus is the main man! He's the superstar!" screamed Bryant, dripping with sweat. "We done tried Carter. We done tried Schaefer! [Baltimore Mayor William D. Schaefer]. We're in trouble because we're the have-nots.
"It was Jesus' hands that took the whip of the slave master off our backs," continued Bryant, the intensity in his voice building. "It's his hands that brought you up from the cane fields and cotton fields of Georgia and South Carolina! It's his hands that can help us now."
By the end of the service, neighborhood mothers already had formed lines with their children at the out-reach center across from the church. Within an hour, church workers distributed over 100 pairs of children's shoes.
"I knew I had only enough money for shoes or pants for my kids. They were upset, and so was I," said one mother nodding toward her three youngsters carrying shoe boxes under their arms. "Now it looks like they'll have both this year."
By tonight, church volunteers at Bethel, the oldest independent black congregation in Maryland, will have contacted some of the job seekers, after spending hours matching applications' qualifications to available jobs.
Job listings collected by the church from government offices and private individuals range from part-time household work to plumbing and technical jobs.
Even Bryant, who has increased the membership at his church from 500 to 3,600 in his four years there, said he was surprised at the response of "the silent majority" to his idea. For instance, he said, the owner of a stationery company who was about to advertise four openings in his plant, decided instead to list them with the church.
Bryant said he also received 30 pairs of shoes from senior citizens at the Waxter Center, a promise from a major Baltimore shoe store to make a large donation and what he called a "touching" note from an elderly woman who sent "all she could afford," $5 toward a pair of shoes, as well as donations from several other individuals and businesses.
The remaining 400 pairs of new shoes, Bryant said, will be distributed this week to parents who bring their children with them. He said no proof of need is required.