Bewilderment - that is my enduring sentiment as I try to engage more people and more churches in the 40 Days for Life vigil here in Halifax. (I should mention here that I really dislike that word "engage" but it seems to have found its place in our vocabulary.)
This is year six for the vigil in Halifax. And this is my sixth year being the coordinator. I hope and pray that God has someone else in mind for this soon, because I feel as if I am reaching the end of my resources. And it is always good to have a change of leadership.
So, every year I visit the churches in the Halifax/Dartmouth area, bringing posters and flyers to all the churches that I can reach. The first year, I naively wrote a letter to every pastor and priest in HRM in the month of July. Two mistakes, first July is a dead month and probably a lot of these letters went unread and second, pastors and priests simply do not respond to letter mail. I don't know why that is, but it is definitely true.
So the next strategy was to call for appointments. I did this in the second year, trying to meet with as many pastors as I could. One day I was really excited as I had six appointments all in one day! I thought I had hit the jackpot. Every pastor I met with was very nice and seemed genuinely interested; however as time moved on, not a single one ever contacted me again about the vigil and not one of them ever came to pray, nor did a single member of their congregations. Which makes me wonder if the posters and flyers were even displayed. Surely out of several hundred people, one person would respond with a phone call or an email. Nope, not one.
Next strategy, try to find people in different churches, people who already come to the vigil and ask them to speak to their pastors and their congregations. That effort failed as well, except for one elderly woman who has convinced four people from her church to come out. She is the only one who has met with any success.
Even a pastor and his wife, (she was convinced all the ladies in her bible study would come out with her) couldn't get anyone else from their church to come with them. And it turns out his congregation dismissed him as pastor, in favour of a younger pastor - I also guess the new pastor is a man who avoids controversial issues.
So fast forward to year six. One pastor, who had previously told me he and his church couldn't broach this subject due to some women in his church being too sensitive about it, has told me that he was warned if he spoke about this, people would walk out. Now Catholic priests who are too outspoken on certain subjects get put into rural out-of-the-way parishes, but Protestant pastors can get fired. So they have a lot more to lose if they take some risks. This pastor assured me this year that he is going to speak about the issue of abortion and he is going to join us at the vigil and will encourage others from his church to do the same.
Today, while making some follow-up phone calls to churches, I had one priest say I have a question. I responded "great, I love questions". He then asked me why do we hold the vigil at this time of year. His problem with the timing, the weather is not good in Canada. As I sit here typing, it is a balmy 21 degrees Celsius here in Halifax, the sun is shining, and everyone here knows that fall is our best season. The months of September and October are the best months of the year. What is he talking about? At that point, I just had to go and take a walk before I dove into full self-pity mode.
As I walked and prayed, I realised that this is just one more excuse in a long line of excuses that people give for why they cannot come out and support 40 Days for Life. How sad that a good priest gives that excuse, when facing some rain and wind could actually be a sacrifice that he could make for the unborn.
I look at the wholehearted response of Americans to the 40 Days for Life vigil (in some cities the same size as ours, they get a thousand people out to pray; here we get less than 200). And then I look at Canada. Even Toronto with a population of 2 1/2 million had trouble getting someone to organize their vigil and last year, they seemed to have the same trouble filling prayer times as we did here with far fewer people.
I have to conclude that there is something dreadfully wrong in this country. Have we simply given up any hope of changing the situation on abortion? Part of me says yes, that is so. Even our members of Parliament cannot put forward common-sense resolutions and meet with support; all attempts at private members bills that are abortion-related, are simply thwarted and all discussion is shut down.
Not one single bill has passed that is pro-life in our country in the past twenty or more years. Compare this with the US where numerous bills have passed in state legislatures that curtail the tsunami of legalized abortion.
Is it because health care in Canada is run by the government? The fact that abortion is completely paid for by our taxes means that the government has the last word on whether or not someone can have an abortion, and I don't believe one single abortion has ever been denied. At least in the US, people can still object to abortion because it is a private matter, and not a government decree.
Is it because Canadians are resigned to abortion? And if they are, why are they more resigned to it than our American neighbours? Are we made of different stuff? Is our country more repressive?
Are we as citizens more docile and reluctant to fight for things that we believe important? Are we wimps?
So many questions in my mind. So many without answers. But the more I work to promote this pro-life vigil, the more convinced I am that there is something wrong at the heart of Canadian Christians. It appears that we have lost our collective soul.