About 12 years ago, my sister Cheryl was asked by the pastor to be the pro-life representative in our parish. Each parish in the diocese was to have a representative, and there was some vague instruction as to what that representative was supposed to do.
In the Beginning There Were Two
Cheryl was interested in helping further the pro-life cause, and was quite qualified to serve the parish in this capacity. However, she was not sure how to proceed, so she shared her dilemma with me because I had worked in public relations.
“What were your instructions?” I asked her. “Not much,” she replied with obvious stress in her voice. “That’s great!” I said. She looked at me like I was crazy. “That means you can pretty much do what you want,” I continued. “What do you want to do?”
For the next hour or so she expressed her ideas. Billboards. Educational programs. Public awareness. Poster contests. Prayers in front of the abortion clinic. The options seemed limitless. We were very excited. Finally, we decided the organizing factor and first project would be a booklet for upcoming Mother’s Day. In it, we wrote a letter introducing the new parish Pro-Life Action Group. We wished all mothers a happy Mother’s Day and thanked them for bringing forth life.
We printed typical arguments in favor of abortion and the Catholic answers to them. These responses were written with the input of a knowledgeable and holy priest. We requested and received permission to use beautiful mother/child line drawings from a book for expectant mothers in the booklet, so we used those on the front and back covers, as well as inside. We drew cartoons and used clip art to fill in white space. We included a section inviting people to join the group, and a phone number to call to help, suggestions for activism, and of course, requested donations.
After getting Father’s permission to proceed, we printed 500 copies and then stood after every Mass on Mother’s Day, smiling and giving out the booklets. Phone calls came in after that weekend, and people inquired about joining. We started receiving checks. We now had a core group. We now had some funds! Cheryl served as first president and treasurer of the group, and we decided to meet once a month. Next, we created a newsletter. It had sections on pending legislation, upcoming parish pro-life events and prayer gatherings, letter-writing tips and addresses of senators and congressmen, as well as interesting facts, and again, cartoons to fill up the white space. The masthead included a simply-drawn baby hanging onto a life preserver. We dubbed the newsletter Lifelines.
All Hands on Deck
The group experienced some great successes. We were able to raise enough money to put up two large billboards, one right in front of the nearest abortion clinic, the other near the public high school. The group had some setbacks as well. We never did see to fruition the conference with the great pro-life speakers we had hoped to accomplish. But overall, we were able to do a lot. Pro-life people seem to be dedicated by nature, and the group at our church certainly proved that. Together we did the following:
• sponsored a poster contest for grade-school children with 1st, 2nd and 3rd prizes for several different age groups;
• purchased a set of 10 hard-bound pro-life books and donated them to the city public library;
• organized a monthly group (first Fridays after morning Mass) to pray the rosary outside the abortion clinic for the intention of an end to abortion;
• obtained regular funds by sponsoring a Christmas card sale every December;
• created and mailed out our quarterly newsletter with pertinent information;
• kept pro-life/ pro-chastity/ pro-NFP brochures stocked in the parish bookshelf for parishioners to help themselves after each Mass;
• donated life-sized fetal models to a local pregnancy crisis center;
• donated food and clothes to the same center; and
• maintained a growing list of interested people willing to help.
This was all accomplished within a two-year period.
Since Cheryl and I have “passed the baton” to keep up with our growing families, the group has continued to grow. Since we left leadership positions, the group has accomplished the following:
• sponsored, every year, a booth at the 4-H county fair, with pertinent information for adults and teens on chastity, NFP, post-abortive stress syndrome, help with crisis pregnancies, etc.;
• organized life chains on a regular basis at various points in the city;
• grown to include 3 more parishes (and because of that a vast mailing list);
• changed the organization’s name to Holy Innocents Pro-Life Group;
• held various fund-raisers and engaged in many other projects; and
• formally elected and appointed officers including president, vice president, and treasurer.
You Can Do This, Too
If your parish doesn’t already have something similar, you can easily jump-start your own parish pro-life group. If the current group needs a little zip, that is easy to do as well. The following suggestions may help:
• First, get your pastor’s permission. Ask what has been done before and what are the guidelines for a pro-life group in your parish and diocese. Who is in charge of pro-life activities in your parish now? Are there any funds available? (Probably not.) What kind of chain of command do you have to follow when pursuing your projects?
• Organize a core group. Set reasonable goals. Start with a list of projects you would like to complete, or activities you would like to do. Divvy up the work to avoid any one person over-controlling or anyone becoming burned out. Remember the old quote, “You can accomplish just about anything as long as you don’t care who gets the credit.”
• Begin and end each meeting with a prayer. Ask God for guidance and direction.
• Delegate! Don’t micromanage. Put people in charge of a project and let them handle the details in their own way. It will motivate them, and keep the group enthusiastic and growing.
• Find a good treasurer. It may be hard to believe now, at the planning stage, but soon there will be money coming in, and it is imperative that the funds be kept track of properly. Our group’s current treasurer is a well-respected accountant with a stellar reputation. You may want to find out if there is a lawyer in your parish who will donate his time to incorporate your group as a non-profit organization. Doing this keeps your organization separate from the church and your funds free of taxation. A lawyer can explain other benefits.
• Keep meetings short and to the point. Limit business to an hour or so. If people want to stay and socialize, great (we always brought snacks to our meetings), but if someone wants to leave, he is free to do so. The fastest way to lose members is to drone on and on so that the meetings are dull and redundant. Set a timer if you must, but keep it short!
• Establish a phone tree for quick contact of members when necessary (whether to call regarding pending legislation or for another purpose).
• When planning your newsletter, remember its primary purpose is to be a vehicle to provide useful information. If you have a talented graphic artist in your group, by all means take advantage of that, but don’t worry if you don’t. Your newsletter need not be fancy, but should be neat and accurate. There are many computer programs available that can help your group meet these goals. Check your post office for mailing rates, but know that you won’t need envelopes for your newsletter. By folding your newsletter into thirds and stapling, you will save the cost of envelopes.
National organizations that can help with ideas or for reference include:
• American Life League (www.all.org/);
• Human Life International (www.hli.org/);
• Priests for Life (www.priestsforlife.org/);
• Other pro-life organizations (www.catholic.net/RCC/Prolife/prolife1.html).
You can start a thriving parish pro-life group with as few as two people. You can choose to focus primarily on prayer or on activism, to meet the needs in your parish and community. Remember, focus, enthusiasm and the right attitude can start your group off on the right path. Someone has to get the ball rolling, and that someone just might be you!
Theresa A. Thomas, wife of David, is a homeschooling mother of nine children, as well as a freelance writer and newspaper columnist for Today’s Catholic. Look for her contribution in Amazing Grace: Stories for Fathers due out from Ascension Press later this year. This article originally appeared in Today’s Catholic.