UCC churches picking up pens, working for justice as Lent begins
Written by Jeff Woodard
February 21, 2012
Nestled in a
small Minnesota harbor village on the north shore of Lake Superior in the
middle of winter, members of First Congregational UCC in Grand Marais have warmed
to the idea of the Bread for the World Offering of Letters campaign.
Congregational is one of many UCC churches joining other faith groups putting
pen to paper during the recently-launched effort to encourage their elected
representatives to "Think. Act. Be."
the case of the Offering of Letters, the accent is on the "Act."
"This is something our
congregation has become accustomed to doing and considering important,"
said church member Kristine Bottorff,
noting that many of the 50-60 congregants who typically worship on a Sunday
morning will stay after services to help prepare letters.
"We'll get 30 sets of
letters out that day or the following week," said Bottorff. "Each
person is signing and addressing three letters (to both senators and a House
representative), so we send out a total of 90 letters once a year."
The 2012 Bread for the World Offering
of Letters campaign urges Congress to protect programs vital to hungry and
economically disadvantaged persons. Thousands of churches representing nearly
50 diverse Christian denominations throughout the United States generate
hundreds of thousands of letters to Congress every year and place them in
offering plates on Sunday mornings.
Through visits, phone calls,
and personal letters and emails, Bread for the World activists and other people
of faith are successful in keeping the needs of vulnerable people before
Congress. Some of the victories include preventing deep cuts to the
Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly food stamps); the
Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC);
food assistance to poor senior citizens; school feeding programs in developing
countries; and emergency food aid.
"Our outreach person
writes a personal letter –– it's not canned by Bread for World, but it takes
their information and works off a theme for the year," said Bottorff. "So
it's not the same letter each year, but rather coincides with a theme of what
is going with the current legislative business of the Senate."
For example, last year the
theme was centered on the risk of the U.S. government removing food from the
list of foreign aid to other countries. "So that was picked out as a
really good issue to address," said Bottorff. "That was the theme last
Within the broad campaign are
four mini-campaigns addressing specific legislative topics to come before Congress
in 2012: nutrition, poverty-focused development assistance, tax policy and food
The Rev. Philip Hoy,
part-time pastor of Zion UCC in Henderson, Ky., said his church sent out 84 letters to elected officials, including
12 from its four-member youth Sunday school class.
"Zion understands what advocacy is all
about," said Hoy, a former Indiana state representative who in 1987 became
director of Second Harvest (now Feeding America), the first regional food bank
in Evansville, Ind. "I've never served a church that is more interested in
mission outreach than this church."
Collecting food is only a
piece of the equation, said Hoy. "Collecting food is important, but that's
not enough. That feeds a person, but it doesn't change the system."
The Rev. David Beckmann,
president of Bread for the World, is prayerfully optimistic about the
"We thank God that the deficit-reduction
decisions Congress and the president made in 2011 avoided most of the proposed
deep cuts in programs that help struggling families make ends meet," he
said. "Since 2012 is an election year, Congress is even more focused on
cutting federal spending, and many programs for hungry and poor people are
"We will have to work
much harder to protect the gains we have made and ensure that anti-poverty
programs are not sacrificed to meet political needs."
obtain Offering of Letters materials, visit www.bread.org/ol