Kick Off for Life
How do we speak about abortion without freaking people out? I faced that very question when our church planned to host a Vespers for the Conception of Saint John the Baptist followed by dinner and short presentation/ kick off rally for 40 Days for Life in our fellowship hall. We publicized the Vespers and kick-off dinner through Facebook, phone calls, and announcements in local Orthodox Churches, but mostly we prayed. It was always a little tough to broach the topic, but God led some people to help with preparations and many to come pray with us that evening.
At our dinner I was to introduce our speaker, my friend Margarita who leads Atlanta 40 Days for Life, and I was a bit apprehensive about what to say. The people who attended were already pro-life. They didn't need to be convinced that we should value life from conception, but praying outside an abortion clinic is intimidating to anyone. It's portrayed in the media as something unbalanced judgmental people do. 40 Days for Life is not a political protest, it's a prayer vigil. After much prayer, I felt the message to convey was one of light shining in the darkness.
At the dinner, I shared this quote as part of my introduction:
How does a light so lovely shine outside an abortion clinic? At a 40 Days for Life vigil, you are not there to devastate those who are already vulnerable and hurting, but it’s deeply disturbing to watch women going into the clinic knowing that many of them are there to end a pregnancy. The horror of abortion becomes very real, but so does the pain of everyone involved. Surprisingly, it's a humbling experience, one where you feel that you are not better than the people in the clinic. Instead, you might discover deep compassion and hurt for them along with an awareness of your own sins.
When we Orthodox go, sometimes we softly pray the Jesus Prayer with our prayer ropes. Other times, we read prayers from the Psalter or sing an Akathist. Praying at the clinic is so emotionally and spiritually heavy, the very pain of it opens your heart to feel a hint of the vast scope of God's love and mercy for us all.
Abortion clinics are places of despair and false hope. People think abortion will solve their problem and that afterwards they can pick their life back up where it was before, but a life has been created that is eternal and the impact of that life never goes away. Praying outside the clinic is a way to give reluctant women hope and a chance to change their mind. We pray for others to embark on path towards eventual healing. Our world is deeply impacted by people feeling lost, alone, and ashamed, but God's redemptive light can shine on them though our love and prayers.
Hosting a kick-off rally for 40 Days for Life was a very Orthodox thing to do. Celebrating the conception of Saint John the Baptist at our Vespers service was a beautiful reminder that the Orthodox recognizes that life begins at conception.
After Vespers, we shared a time of fellowship over dinner. We made chili (comfort food) and set fresh flowers on the table to foster a cheerful, hopeful atmosphere. Margarita had a large display board full of photos of babies who have been spared.We hosted several guests from the local pro-life community who were interested in visiting an Orthodox Church and thankful to see our participation in this struggle which they have been waging for so many years. Margarita shared a video about 40 Days, described her involvement, and told stories of specific babies whose lives have been saved as a result of the prayers and presence of those outside the clinic.
In spite of the heavy topic, people looked joyous and hopeful. Afterwards, friends cleaned up together and God's grace was felt in the room as small groups discussed opportunities to help. We went home thankful for the opportunities God gives us to be His light.
You can get involved with 40 Days for Life too. Check out their website https://www.40daysforlife.com/ for more information and to find a vigil near you. Gather a group of Orthodox friends, sign up together for a time to pray at a clinic, and then go and pray. Pray Orthodox prayers together. Prayerfully consider hosting a kick-off rally at your church. Talk to your priest, gather friends and see where God leads you next!
Be that light so lovely that those who are in deep pain and darkness feel the warmth of Christ's love. Save the life of an innocent baby, pray for the adults, and love them all.