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"The Choir Needs Choir Practice:" Effective Pro-Life Work in Churches.

For the first time, the National Right to Life's Annual Convention featured a "Pastor's Track" comprised of five workshops that focused on building a stronger pro-life witness in churches. Some might suggest this is "preaching to the choir," but as Fr. Frank Pavone of Priests for Life aptly put it, "The choir needs choir practice."

At previous NRLC conventions, a particularly popular workshop featured a panel of speakers from the National Pro-Life Religious Council (NPRC), a Christian ecumenical coalition of pro-life denominational/church groups. Since there was often not enough time to address all the questions and contributions that attendees had, NRLC decided to expand the number of workshops to explore the different aspects of church-based pro-life work. This included the following:

1) We are the sheep--Where are the Shepherds?

2) Establishing an Effective Pro-Life Presence in your Community/Churches

3) Increasing Local Pro-Life Effectiveness in Pro-Life Denominations

4) Overcoming Pro-Abortion Opposition Within Congregations and Denominations

5) Ministering to Abortion Victims

Churches are a natural forum for pro-life work. They comprise a massive communication system. Pastors have regular opportunities to know their people and to speak to them.

Further, the problems of abortion and euthanasia are primarily spiritual and moral, the speakers explained. It has been the onslaught against the religious value of the sanctity of life that has largely created the legal and political crisis in our nation. Therefore, the crux of the resulting problems needs to be addressed in our churches.

Speakers included the Revs. Frank Pavone, Priests for Life; James Lamb, Lutherans for Life; David Adams, Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod, Will Dodson, Southern Baptist Convention, Benjamin Sheldon, Presbyterian Church USA; John Brown, United Church of Christ; Clifford Christensen, Conservative Congregational Christian Conference; and Michael Mannion, director of St. Pins X Spiritual Life Center and minister in post-abortion healing.

Others who addressed the attendees included the executive director of National Organization of Episcopalians for Life, Georgette Fornay, and NRLC's Director of Religious Outreach, Ernest Ohlhoff. The cumulative experience and wisdom of these speakers created an outstanding resource for an in-depth and detailed consideration of critical questions facing the churches on the most important moral issue of our day.

Many speakers agreed that pro-life work is primarily about ministering to people: the unborn children dying, the mothers and fathers deeply hurt by abortion, families disturbed by questions surrounding euthanasia. Some pastors are not well-informed. They are stressed by time factors and fatigue. They are uncertain of how to deal with women who have had abortions, and some even lack confidence in the Gospel or fear to displease pro-abortion members of their congregation.

For pastors and congregations that are indifferent to pro-life concerns, the most important work may be to become more aware of the deep hurt and healing needed by post-abortive men and women. Georgette Fornay and Fr. Mannion presented in their workshop ("Ministering to Abortion Victims") moving testimonies to the work already being done and so vital in this area.

There is so much denial of reality, that many are "clueless" about their own post-abortive behavior and the pain underlying it, according to Fornay. Fr. Mannion challenged those working in a church setting to make it "safe to come home"--to provide a place of compassion, a recognition of the need to grieve, time to heal, and the sacramental and scriptural means to healing.

Lay people can do a lot to support pastors in a positive way. The first is to pray regularly for their pastor, their congregation, the lay leaders --a crucial first step, many speakers emphasized, which should not be overlooked.

Creative resources, materials, and activities can be provided to and directed by pro-life lay members. These may vary with different denominations, but one resource all speakers urged was references for pregnancy support services in the community and for post-abortion counseling.

Another workshop, presented by Ernest Ohlhoff and Rev. James Lamb, outlined the work that can be done by a pro-life committee within a congregation: They dealt in detail with the communication, education, and organization needed for a committee or representative to be effective in a church environment.

Churches which have well-established pro-life policies remain in need of much development in order to carry out their generally pro-life view in an active and practical way in every congregation. As Rev. David Adams pointed out, "Pro-life churches have a sense that we know the answer, it's a settled question, so we don't have to do anything." There is a need, Rev. Adams said, to move from this attitude into creating an active pro-life ministry.

Fr. Pavone described an attitude held by some who consider abortion wrong but think that other people's abortions are "not my business." Much work needs to be done to educate people about the great need for healing, for truth, for ministering, for changing laws and for changing cultural values, he explained.

The strength the pro-life churches provide is a structure that is already in place. It is important to understand how this structure works in each different denomination, the speakers pointed out, so that you can work effectively within it.

Denominations in which the leadership has adopted a pro-abortion policy can be moved in a pro-life direction and benefit from pro-life ministry, according to Rev. Ben Sheldon and Rev. John Brown. These pastors shared from their wealth of experience within their respective denominations of development about pro-life questions. It was encouraging to hear how much had been accomplished because of the persistent efforts of the pro-life denominational group, and because of the ministries carried out at the local community and congregational level.

These workshops were so rich in detail, practical suggestions, and good advice provided by these pastors and pro-life leaders that it is impossible to capture it in this short space. However, tapes are available that can carry this sharing into any and every congregation across the nation. Many useful handouts passed out at the workshops are available as well. For copies of these tapes ($6 each) and handouts, fax a request to 202-393-2610.

For a complete list of all tapes available from NRLC `99, see ad, page 28.
COPYRIGHT 1999 National Right to Life Committee, Inc.
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
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Title Annotation:five workshops at National Right to Life Committee 1999 convention focus on relationships with churches
Author:Sweeney, Kathleen
Publication:National Right to Life News
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Jul 6, 1999
Previous Article:Crucial Significance of 2000 Elections Underscored at NRLC '99.
Next Article:Jewish Pro-Life Outreach Expands at NRLC Convention.

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