From the Worldwide Faith News archives

Souper Bowl Fills With Goodwill

Date 04 May 1996 20:51:35


96012            Souper Bowl Fills With Goodwill 
A Columbia minister's small pun grows into something big -- and worthwhile 
                         by Brad Warthen 
                   "The Columbia (S.C.) State" 
COLUMBIA, S.C.--One week in late January 1988, the Rev. Brad Smith was 
trying to come up with something to liven up "the long prayer" on Sunday. 
     The pastoral prayer, that is, as it is officially known at Spring 
Valley Presbyterian Church, where Smith is associate pastor.  But he knew 
the congregation called it something else.  Aware that many parishioners 
would be particularly antsy on this particular Sunday, a line came to mind 
that would use that fact to grab their attention: 
     "As we enjoy the Super Bowl game, help us to be mindful of those who 
don't even have a bowl of soup to eat." 
     That was all, just one line in a litany of pleas for intercession on a 
variety of issues.  It hung in the air of the church sanctuary for a moment 
and was gone. 
     But it wasn't gone for Smith.  Like a tune heard on a radio, it stuck 
in his head, and he kept thinking about how that simple, pun-driven thought 
could be translated into meaningful action.  He was still thinking about it 
in 1989 when he returned from a spell at seminary.  He mentioned it to some 
members of the Spring Valley youth group, and one day a few of them dropped 
by after school to kick ideas around. 
     From the beginning, they wanted their effort to be bigger than their 
own church.  Remembers Smith: "One said,  I know somebody who goes to St. 
John Neumann [Catholic Church],' and somebody else said they'd call 
somebody at another church." 
                     A dollar from every fan 
     The following January they were ready.  On 1990's Super Bowl Sunday 
they kicked off the first "Souper Bowl" at 22 churches in the Columbia 
area.  Kids stood at the church doors after services with soup kettles, 
asking parishioners who planned to watch the game to drop in a dollar 
     When all the participating groups called in their results, they had 
collected $5,700.  The money was distributed to various charities in the 
community, with each church picking its own preferred beneficiary. 
     And that was just the beginning.  They did it again the next year, and 
the next.  And each year, it got a little bigger, raising a little more 
money for such groups as Habitat for Humanity and the Harvest Hope food 
     By the fifth year, it was a lot bigger.  In January 1994 1,700 
organizations in 49 states -- churches representing 30 denominations, 
synagogues and even a sorority -- raised $275,000.  
     [In 1995, 2,400 participating groups collected $430,000.  This year -- 
Souper Bowl VII -- they're shooting for more than a million dollars.] 
                   National reach, local impact 
     The Souper Bowl, once a mere mustard seed of a pun, is a big, national 
deal now.  Its Advocates Committee includes the likes of former First Lady 
Rosalynn Carter, Habitat founder Millard Fuller, University of Chicago 
theologian Martin Marty, and even some representatives of the world in 
which that other Bowl takes place -- Tom Landry and Sam Wyche. 
     But while the reach is national, the focus is local.  The money raised 
by each participating church or other organization stays right in its own 
community, helping local people.  And while a lot of high-powered older 
folks have climbed aboard the bandwagon, most of the work still is done by 
high school students.  They're the ones who on Jan. 28 will staff the soup 
kettles and the phone bank. 
     And that, perhaps even more than the tangible good done for the needy, 
is one of the most important things accomplished by the Souper Bowl.  As 
Brad Smith puts it, the project not only teaches kids that there's 
"something more than the football game going on on Sunday," it also 
counters "all the messages of hopelessness and despair that young people 
are exposed to. 
     "This is something that tells young kids that they can make a 
difference in a positive way." 
Editor's note: For more information about participating in the Souper Bowl, 
call 1-800-358-SOUP. 

For more information contact Presbyterian News Service
  Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), Louisville, KY 40202
  phone 502-569-5504            fax 502-569-8073  
  E-mail   Web page: 


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