How not to do sidewalk discipleship

Picture this: a car pulls into the abortion mill parking lot, a young woman at the wheel. A group of people standing around talking outside run to intercept her, calling out as they scamper toward her. How do you think this makes the woman in the car feel? Now picture this: two groups of people standing around talking outside the clinic notice the woman’s car pulling in and both groups high tail it over to her, both groups intent on intercepting her before the other group can have their say. True, one group cannot step onto the abortion mill property, and that group is actually acting out of love, wanting to offer hope and help to the woman, but if you were her sitting inside the car, watching all these people scampering toward you, how would you feel? Do you think you would find the whole experience disturbing? I know would. I found it disturbing when I witnessed it.

This is not the way to do sidewalk discipleship. This is not the way to present your case. This is not the way to move hearts and minds toward an openness to hearing the word of the Lord. Instead, this is the way to turn people off and drive them away from us. No wonder so many people think we’re nutjobs. No wonder so many people won’t even talk to us. I spend a lot of time out there, walking up and down the sidewalk, praying, open to friendly talk if another person, whether staff or passerby or possible patron, is open to interact. It’s happened several times, with neighborhood residents, joggers, walkers, bicyclers, and once with a staffer. All of these interactions were positive except two. One of the positive interactions was with a staffer. But I have never thrust a brochure at anyone.

Note, I am not saying I haven’t ever given anyone a brochure, I said I haven’t thrust one at anyone. There is a difference. I’ve initiated conversations, but I haven’t done any preaching and I certainly haven’t called out any slogans at anyone. Calling out “Momma, don’t abort your baby!” to a woman (who may only be dropping in to see about contraception) is something I find offensive. Who says she’s pregnant? Who says she’s decided to do such a thing, if she is pregnant? And if one is convinced that that is the way to witness at the abortion mill, then why not choose one person to act as spokesperson instead of ganging up on a woman who may be feeling overwhelmed already, while the others continue to pray the way they’re supposed to be doing at our silent prayer vigil anyway. I know all these people mean well, but there is a way to accomplish one’s goals and a way not to accomplish them or even to drive people into the waiting arms of the other side! It’s easy for the abortionist’s staff to convince prospective patrons that they are kind and caring and that we are nutjobs when we act like that.

And this is probably one reason why we don’t have more people coming out to spend time in front of the abortion mills. That kind of thing drives away the women who need us and the people who would otherwise join us in our pro-life witness. There was a man there the other day who had joined us for the first time. And probably for the last time. When his hour was up, he almost ran to his car. I don’t blame him. If I hadn’t already had so many wonderful days out there, and if I didn’t have the habit of praying my Rosary and Divine Mercy no matter what’s going on around me, I might have left too.

But I do have that habit, weak as it is, and I’m trying to develop it further. Non-Catholics may poke fun at our prayer forms, but I’m very thankful to have them. I have spent hour after hour, walking up and down the sidewalk, Rosary in hand, praying and asking the Lord to have mercy on us and on the whole world, meditating on the mysteries of the Gospel story, meditating on the Way of the Cross, and interceding for the souls of the abortionists, their staff, their patrons, their collaborators (which includes anyone who helps them in any way to perform their work), our government, the men and women who are faced with the temptation to abort, and the innocent babies who cannot speak for themselves and have done nothing in the world to bring this sentence of death upon their heads.

I hope that more people will discover the joy of praying in front of our nation’s abortion mills. And that more people will remember what the words “peaceful prayer vigil” and “peaceful prayerful presence” mean. I know that many more people could find a way to spend time, at the very least, one single hour, in peaceful public prayer to end the scourge of abortion.

Could you not watch one hour with me? Watch ye, and pray that ye enter not into temptation. – Matthew 26:40-41.

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