No, it's not a typo. Before the big game on Super Bowl Sunday, Jan. 30, thousands of people across the country will kick off another event that promises to have an even bigger impact - the Souper Bowl of Caring 2000.
In this case, the teams will be church congregations - and the starting lineups, their young people. After services in many denominations, worshippers will drop a $1 or $2 contribution into soup pots manned by the youths. The donations will be given to a local charity of each church's choosing.
Last year, $2.5 million was raised by 11,300 congregations to help their neighbors in need. This year, the goal is to involve at least 20,000 churches and raise $3.5 million. Any interested church is welcome to participate. (Some schools and businesses have also asked to participate.)
It all started with a prayer some years ago at Spring Valley Presbyterian Church in Columbia, S.C. "Lord, as we enjoy the Super Bowl football game, help us be mindful of those who are without even a bowl of soup to eat," came to Brad Smith, then a seminary student. The line lingered in Mr. Smith's mind, and when he became an associate pastor, he talked with the church's youth fellowship about inviting parishioners to donate a dollar. The young people spread the word, and 22 local churches from seven denominations joined that 1990 effort, generating $5,700.
The Souper Bowl went statewide in 1991, and national in 1993. Since then, more than $7 million has gone to charities in the US and Canada. The church has turned the operation over to a national Council of Stewards, but they keep it simple. Not a penny of the funds goes anywhere but to the group selected by each church. Participating congregations simply report the total amount to national organizers, who tally the results. Local and national businesses have donated resources to cover the costs of publicizing the event and setting up phone lines and a Web site: www.souperbowl.com
The motivation, organizers say, is simply "loving God and loving our neighbors." It's also an opportunity for each church to teach young people the value of caring and being of help to those most in need. An "edukit" is available on the Web, including a hunger quiz and Bible study on responsibility to the less fortunate. Some young people also start volunteering at local organizations.
And some congregations really get into the spirit of it! A small church in Soddy-Daisy, Tenn., committed their own membership, then contacted other churches, as well as people who shopped at the local Food Lion and Wal-Mart. With $2,300, they approached Wal-Mart to match the contribution. The 80-member church spurred a donation of $4,600.
The idea, Smith says, is to make Super Bowl Sunday not just a spectator sport, but more of a participatory event.
*For more information on Souper Bowl of Caring call: (800) 358-SOUP
(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society