Indiana congregation weaves together worship and justice
June - July 2009

Seth Rinderknecht writes to congress during the Offering of Letters service at First Congregational UCC, Indianapolis. Jessica Kramer photo.
Offering of Letters as the work of worship

For Jessica Kramer and her worship team partners at First Congregational UCC in Indianapolis, organizing their May 19 contemporary worship service around Bread for the World's Offering of Letters campaign was a natural fit.

First Congregational UCC is a Bread for the World "covenant church" that has participated in the Offering of Letters since 1983. Along with a financial commitment, Bread for the World covenant churches pledge to integrate hunger concerns into the life of their congregation — learning more about hunger, praying for hungry people and advocating for public policy change.

But Kramer believes this is the first time the Offering of Letters has been conducted within the church service.

"The church is pretty used to us incorporating justice themes into worship, so using the Offering of Letters as a worshipful act was a great way to bring advocacy into the service," says Kramer. "Everyone accepted it as a natural part of worship."

The service incorporated prayer, music and Bread for the World visual elements and a video presentation, along with Paul's encouragement from 2 Corinthians 9 for the church "to be generous, to care about the needs of those around them, and to give thanks to God through their gifts to others. He's been boasting about their eagerness to help but now he wants them to act."

"We collected 69 letters," says Kramer. "It was a lot more meaningful to use the entire service to present the campaign — it really resonated with the congregation."

Andrea Clough, also a worship team member, agrees. "For me, doing [the Offering of Letters] in worship, as the body of Christ, brought home how much we are the hands and minds that can do the work of the kingdom, as shown to us in Jesus Christ," she says.

Bread for the World's annual Offering of Letters Campaign invites congregations to collectively sound off on issues of hunger, food justice and sustainability. Over 1,400 U.S. congregations across a spectrum of denominations have committed to participate in 2009, with the goal of making U.S. foreign assistance more effective in serving the world's poor and hungry people.

"Even in an economic crisis, we can continue to fight global poverty. Just by doing foreign aid better, we can do more for the poorest of the poor — people who survive on less than $1.25 a day," says the Rev. David Beckmann, Bread for the World's president. "Congress must ensure that global development is as prominent as defense and diplomacy as instruments of U.S. foreign policy. This will create a better, safer world."

Last year, as part of its campaign to reform the farm bill, Bread for the World's actions helped allocate an additional $10 billion in food and nutrition funding over the next 10 years. Past campaigns led to the establishment of the Millennium Challenge Account, a program aimed at reducing poverty in developing countries while fighting corruption.

"Blending advocacy into worship is an evocative way of making connections," says the Rev. Wallace Ryan Kuroiwa, team leader for economic justice at the UCC's Justice and Witness Ministries. "Jesus compels us to care for 'the least of these.' Active justice-filled worship like the Offering of Letters is a real way we can practice Jesus' call to care for 'the least of these'." 

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