Stephen Groth: Exercising New Muscles
In 2010, a book signing by David Beckmann for Exodus from Hunger drew the attention of Stephen Groth of Ardsley, New York. “I had retired,” remembers Groth, “and I wanted to devote myself to activities that end hunger.”
Beckmann’s message, and that of Bread for the World, resonated with Groth, who purchased 10 copies of the book to hand out to his fellow parishioners at St. Barnabas Episcopal Church. He assumed that the congregation would quickly answer the call to become advocates for poor and hungry people; but it was 15 months before St. Barnabas—which draws around 40 people to Sunday worship—held its first Offering of Letters.
Why the delay? First, Groth wanted to look to and learn from another local church conducting an Offering before St. Barnabas ventured to write letters on its own. However, to his surprise, he could not find one nearby—a gap in involvement which would motivate him to increase his efforts to spread Bread’s message, not just to his own church members, but to people of faith in the community as a whole.
After St. Barnabas’ successful Offering of Letters in March 2012, Groth engaged a local interfaith group of 11 churches and 4 synagogues to hold a community-wide Offering of Letters the following month. Despite extensive publicity and outreach to the community, only a scant few attended. Groth chose not to despair, instead seeing the small attendance as confirmation that his efforts to bring Bread’s work to his community’s attention were truly needed. Groth says, “It’s really important to be persistent,” in reaching new audiences. So, in the fall of 2012, he once again stretched beyond his parish to try to involve other local churches in advocacy, using Bread for the World Sunday as an entry point.
Groth believes Bread for the World Sunday can serve different purposes for different congregations in different places along their journey. For those who conduct an Offering of Letters early in the year, “Bread for the World Sunday should be celebratory,” he says—a chance to lift up successes in the fight against hunger. Meanwhile, for churches that are newer to advocacy, it can be a time to learn about Bread for the World and to be mindful of and pray for hungry people.
At Bread for the World Sunday at St. Barnabas, asking parish members to share in reading the litany provided in the Bread for the World Sunday Resource Kit proved particularly effective. Groth feels the litany, prayers, and worship resources provided by Bread are helpful to use during worship, especially with their message reinforced by additional materials—such as Bread’s newsletter—given to members after church in order to continue to learn about Bread.
According to Groth, and echoed by many other churches which celebrate Bread for the World Sunday, the hunger and poverty fact sheets with information about hunger at both the state and international levels are valuable tools that Bread provides. “Each one of those bullet points is so powerful,” he says, suggesting that congregations unpack the fact sheets by highlighting one fact in the church bulletin each week leading up to Bread for the World Sunday.
Today, Groth remains eager to address the ongoing challenge of encouraging those who already invest in anti-hunger efforts through food pantries and meal programs to become advocates as well. “Engaging with Bread is like exercising new muscles,” he jokes. He believes that it may seem strange at first, but in the end it is good—not just for hungry people, but also for the development of one’s own faith.
“Steve has worked really hard to bring Bread for the World to the attention of new individuals and congregations,” says Vince Mezzera, Bread's Associate Manager for Membership Resources. “You can’t talk with him and not come away with a sense of how committed he is to Bread’s work to end hunger.”
As Groth continues to ponder ways to reach out to more individuals and engage them in advocacy to end hunger, he wants to convince them that “What you do really matters, and it matters that you support Bread.” Whether that support comes in the form of activism or prayer, he says, “You matter to Bread.”
Celebrate Bread for the World Sunday on October 20, 2013, or on any date this fall. Join thousands of other Christians across the country as they lift up their voices on behalf of hungry people. To learn more about how you can get involved and to order materials new for 2013, visit www.bread.org/sunday.