Sidewalk Counselors Gather for National Symposium

Ann Scheidler gives a talk

Ann Scheidler gives a talk at the National SWC Symposium [Photo by Joe Scheidler]

Our friends at Pro-Life Action Ministries hosted the first ever national sidewalk counseling symposium in St. Paul, Minnesota, August 5 and 6. The Pro-Life Action League was well-represented, offering our expertise in this central pro-life outreach to abortion-bound mothers.

Sidewalk Counseling: A Spiritual Battle

League National Director Joe Scheidler spoke on Friday evening, along with Fr. Frank Pavone and Pastor Walter Hoye, in spiritual preparation for the work scheduled for Saturday. Joe focused on the importance of following Saint Benedict’s motto “Ora et labora”—”Pray and work.” Fr. Pavone stressed the element of mission in pro-life work and advised that activists not concern themselves with what someone else is doing that might seem a distraction, but rather to stay focused on their own task of saving lives by offering life affirming options.

Rev. Hoye had recently enjoyed a victory from the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in his ongoing battle with the City of Oakland over their application of a “bubble zone” law enacted precisely because he was out on the street in front of an abortion clinic letting women know that Jesus loves them. He explained the very complicated lawsuit and announced that in the wake of this victory, he plans to go on and challenge the constitutionality of the entire bubble zone law. This was encouraging news to those of us fighting other bubble zone laws.

Creative Measures at PLAM

Prior to the Saturday workshops, attendees boarded school buses (not equipped with springs or shock absorbers) and headed for the Robbinsdale clinic, which promotes itself as a family health center. Pro-Life Action Ministries owns the building next door to the clinic. The PLAM center includes an office, a chapel and a gathering space. In the backyard PLAM has erected a platform so that sidewalk counselors have an opportunity to speak to the abortion clinic clients and offer information and alternatives. The front yard of the PLAM house includes a large crucifix and a grotto to Our Lady of Guadalupe.

The local authorities have placed unreasonable restrictions on the pro-lifers in Robbinsdale. A limited number of people can be on the sidewalk. Photographing the clinic is prohibited. But there is a pro-life presence at the abortion facility whenever they are doing abortions. Babies are being saved in spite of the clinic and the community’s efforts to thwart the pro-lifers’ mission.

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League Shares Expertise

On Saturday, I conducted a workshop on how to launch an effective sidewalk counseling ministry, with a special emphasis on how to put on an effective training seminar for prospective counselors. I welcomed this opportunity to “train the trainers,” building on the seminars that I have conducted for sidewalk counselors across the country from Hawaii to Maine.

My presentation included detailed advice on how to put on a successful seminar, such as how to select a suitable venue, techniques for promoting the event and the importance of always charging a fee so that people feel invested in it. I emphasized the value of inviting someone from outside the local community to conduct a training seminar—someone who would be free to address sticky issues like problems with disruptive pro-lifers, which might be politically difficult for someone local to deal with.

The League’s Matt Yonke covered the particular challenges posed by Planned Parenthood’s new fleet of abortion mega-centers, building on his four years of experience at the flagship center in Aurora, Illinois, which was specifically designed to disrupt sidewalk counseling. Matt cautioned that pro-lifers should have respect for the fact that Planned Parenthood is very good at what they do, even though their agenda is saturated with evil.

Matt offered practical tips for reaching out to abortion-bound mothers at these facilities, such as creative use of signage and resonding to the greater reach of these centers by creating a more regional pro-life effort.

Brian Gibson and Debra Braun from Pro-Life Action Ministries gave talks on the philosophy of sidewalk counseling and the basic training necessary for a sidewalk counselor.

Phoenix Attorney John Jakubczyk of Arizona Right to Life spoke to symposium attendees about the rights they enjoy under the U. S. Constitution. He strongly advised that every sidewalk counseling ministry have a lawyer on call, preferably a volunteer strongly committed to the cause.

Future Symposium Discussed

One hundred sidewalk counselors from all over the United States gathered in St. Paul for the symposium, coming from Washington state, Tennessee, Maryland, Texas, Illinois, Michigan, Wisconsin and Iowa, to name just a few. It is encouraging to see so many pro-lifers dedicated to the ministry of sidewalk counseling. The networking between counselors from various parts of the country was acknowledged as a vital part of the weekend.

Everyone agreed that another symposium would be valuable, and Chicago was proposed as a possible location. The League is eager to work with PLAM on the next symposium and to continue bringing sidewalk counselors together to share their expertise and encouragement.

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