Seeing abortion protesters on West State Street in Bristol is not an unusual site. Most residents have grown accustomed to the peaceful groups with signs in front of Bristol Regional Women’s Center at 2901 West State Street, the corner of Slaughter Street and State Street. Usually, they are in the grassy plot across the street, but today, there were a few on the sidewalk in front of the office, too. There was little to differentiate this group from the groups who have gathered in the past, albeit less frequently in recent years. The only difference today was that I actually stopped.
It is only natural to wonder about these people that you see in all kinds of weather holding placards with emotional pleas to both those entering for possible abortions and to the vehicles passing by. A quick left turn into the road beside Taco Bell and behind the grassy area allowed easy parking and access to talk to these curious folks. Interesting local, first-hand articles are celebrated by the editors at the Examiner, and as I felt the mud under my favorite Audrey Hepburn black ballet flats, I thought how you couldn’t get much more first-hand than this!
As I approached the three protesters standing quietly in the grass across the street from the office in question, the only way to describe their expression was “a little wary.” They were not sure about me, which honestly, I wouldn’t have been either.
The reality of our society is that those with values such as theirs are often not welcome to express them, and a segment of the public feels quite angry that they would dare come out of their dark sanctuaries to participate in the public dialog. In that moment, I realized that they really were placing themselves in a dangerous situation for something they believe in, which truly validates their authenticity, don’t you think?
Of course, they soon realized I was a harmless, friendly soul, as I identified myself. The next thing that I noticed was that they were holding Rosaries, dark brown wooden Rosaries. I inquired whether they were a Catholic group, and the lady there informed me that their protest was part of the Forty Days for Life and that today was the day that the Catholic Church had volunteered to participate.
Initially, I only intended to snap a photo of the ladies protesting across the street on the sidewalk and leave. The two men and one lady had so much more to share with me that I ended up staying quite a while. Having always wondered what it felt like to stand there and protest against abortion, I did get to experience a few minutes of just that, and it was very interesting.
We talked a few minutes in an unusual kind of dialogue, punctuated by horns honking ever few minutes. It turns out that the nice lady I was conversing with was Peggy English, a nurse and one of the regional directors for Silent No More Awareness Campaign in East Tennessee. She referred me to the Tri-Cities director, Linda Edwards, and the official website of the Forty Days for Life. Hosanna Fellowship, an Evangelical Church in Johnson City, is sponsoring the 40 Days for Life campaign in the Tri-Cities Area. According to Peggy English,
Christians of ALL denominations are invited to stand in solidarity with prayer and fasting…either on site or off. Hosanna Fellowship is there faithfully from 8am till noon daily. Anyone is welcome to join them in prayer during that time, as my husband and I do frequently. We are always lovingly welcomed. This year, there has been an even greater response for prayer among the Catholic Parishes…and through the Knights of Columbus, the men’s organization in the Catholic Church, there was a desire to actually “take a turn” on site each Tues. afternoon during the 40 Days for Life campaign
She accepted my email and promised to send more information.
I also met one or two of the ladies who came over from across the street to invite these folks to come over there. It appears, according to my new Catholic friends, that people entering the facility can see the signs better from across the grassy area across the street.
The very soft-spoken Mrs. English also mentioned that she was active in another pro-life group for women who had had abortions, called “Rachel’s Vineyard.” At that point, she told me that she had had an abortion and she described the resources available through that organization to help women heal and recover from the experience. You can see her t-shirt bearing that message in the above photo. (As a mother who has experienced still-birth, this made quite an impression on me.)
The two gentlemen there were very quiet and dignified. One later told me he was 74 years old. The other gentleman, apparently the lady’s husband, answered my question about the placards lying on the ground bearing the “Knights of Columbus” trademark. He explained that those were part of the efforts of a group out of Greeneville, which I assumed he was a member, and they were currently working to purchase ultrasound equipment for an organization that counsels pregnant women.
So, this particular abortion protest is apparently a many-faceted affirmation of life. A “Protest” seems quite the wrong word for what was happening down there on West State Street today. A quick visit to the Forty Days for Life website shows their purpose as follows:
This Spring, from February 22-April 1, our community will join the largest and longest coordinated pro-life mobilization in history — the 40 Days for Life campaign.
40 Days for Life is a focused pro-life effort that consists of:
- 40 days of prayer and fasting
- 40 days of peaceful vigil
Today’s group was quietly praying with their little brown Rosaries, nothing at all offensive or threatening was said, done, or exhibited. I actually had to pull the information out of them. They made it clear that the local organization was full of people from various denominations, citing the involvement of Hosanna Fellowship. I think that the term for what they were doing could actually more accurately be called, “Pray-testing.”
When I was leaving, there was discussion that the banner that the ladies were unfurling across the street on the sidewalk near the building needed to be displayed instead in the grass where we were to avoid any problems. They were quite careful not to offend any ordinances or even display any discourteousness to the occupants of the facility which they were “pray-testing.”
By the way, I asked them, “What do the horns mean? Are they positive or negative, do you think?” There seemed to be many coming by expressing support, and it was a nice reminder of Bristol’s morally conservative base and still-active plethora of churches. I was musing on this lofty thought when they offered a humorous explanation about that.
It seems, they told me, that they can pretty well assume the horns are positive because the negative ones show themselves with accompanying gestures! The quiet, soft-spoken “Knight of Columbus” added that they have some people telling them that they are “#1” as they honk.
I was really glad that I stopped.
If you or your church would like to participate in Forty Days for Life, Hosanna Fellowship would be thrilled. Linda Edwards of Hosanna Fellowship has said, “We’d like to see 40 churches of ALL denominations take a day to come and pray and fast across from the clinic! ” Wouldn’t that be awesome!
Contact information for Forty Days For Life Tri-Cities:
Co-Regional Coordinator, Tennessee
Silent No More Awareness Campaign
Rachel’s Vineyard Ministries
808 N. Henderson Road 2nd Floor
King of Prussia, PA 19406
(610) 354-0555 (office)
(610) 354-0311 (fax)
Toll-free retreat information: 877 HOPE 4 ME
Knights of Columbus in Tennessee