Getting Your Congregation Involved in an Offering of Letters
Congregations increase advocacy, expand ministry through Offering of Letters participation
As we enter a new Offering of Letters season, Bread for the World organizers are often asked, "How do I get started with the Offering of Letters?" Organizing a letter-writing event to urge our leaders to help hungry people around the world is easier than many think. Here are two examples of congregations that conducted their first letter-writing events in 2013 and how they got involved in that important first advocacy step.
Deacon Grace Marable of Bethel Presbyterian Church in North Philadelphia has been a long-time activist and church leader. Illness prevents her from pursuing paid employment, so her volunteer work is her passion — one she shares with three generations of family members, including four-year-old great-grandson Devin.
Several years ago, the hunger action leader in Philadelphia’s presbytery introduced Marable to Bread for the World. She realized that advocacy, along with a strengthened food cupboard at her church, was a key response to hunger and that the two could be linked in creative ways.
Marable attended an Offering of Letters workshop last April in downtown Philadelphia and vowed that 2013 was the year that she would organize an offering among the recipients and volunteers at her church’s weekly food cupboard. She tailored the sample letter to each group and got an enthusiastic response from all who participated. One pantry recipient even returned after finishing his letters and asked, "Are there more letters to write?"
After the offering, Marable gathered all of the letters, got in her car, and drove to Washington, D.C., to give the letters to other Pennsylvanians attending Bread's 2013 National Gathering last June. She asked them to hand-deliver the letters to members of Congress during Bread's annual Lobby Day that week. After some time had passed, Marable had a pantry recipient excitedly run up to her, waving the response she had received from one of her senators. The woman was undeterred that the senator was not supportive. She was actually proud to have taken part and eager to do more.
Since becoming an active part of Bread, Marable speaks about hunger and justice advocacy each Sunday in worship and with the church’s women’s group, which she helps lead. Members of her church often remark that she has “found her voice.”
Sometimes "outside voices" draw advocates to Bread. Rev. Karen Bellimer, minister of music at Erwin First United Methodist Church in Syracuse, N.Y., says she and her husband first learned about Bread when they saw Jon Stewart interview the producers of the hunger documentary A Place at the Table on The Daily Show.
Moved by what she heard, Bellimer ordered the video and showed it twice — in a local theater and later at her church. With that grounding, in May 2013 she organized the church’s first Offering of Letters, building on its existing food pantry outreach and engaging children and adults alike. Children in the Sunday school at Erwin First United Methodist Church wrote letters to Obama about ending hunger as part of the congregation’s participation in the 2013 Offering of Letters. During worship, one family in the congregation shared that its members receive federal food assistance through SNAP (formerly food stamps), and they talked about their own journey with hunger, sparking a good conversation in worship. Now, the Erwin church has pledged to make hunger and advocacy a key part of its ministry.
These are just two examples of creative ways to take that first key step toward advocacy in your church or campus. Contact your Bread for the World regional organizer for more suggestions and resources to deepen your connection to Bread and the 2014 Offering of Letters campaign. Thousands of other hunger activists in churches and on campuses across the country have found their voices through Bread, and you can too.
You can also visit our website, Offering of Letters: Reforming U.S. Food Aid, for more information on how to get started.
Photo: Bread for the World Senior Regional Organizer Larry Hollar (left) with advocate Grace Marable (center) and family. (Photo courtesy of Larry Hollar).