I’ve managed to get to the 40 Days for Life vigil in central London a couple of times since it started on Ash Wednesday. People gather outside the BPAS abortion clinic in Bedford Square, between Tottenham Court Road station and the British Museum. They pray. They witness peacefully to an alternative vision of life to that offered by the abortion culture. And they offer practical and loving support to women and men who perhaps think they have no alternative to seeking an abortion. It’s non-confrontational and non-judgemental, and it takes place across the street from the clinic so that people visiting there do not have to walk directly past a row of people they would rather avoid. One hour there were two or three people; another time there were about ten.
If you have time, why not try to visit and join the vigil, even if it is just for a few minutes. I know many people will feel uneasy about this – I did myself. There is a natural nervousness about doing anything in public as Christians, and a fear that this could become confrontational, and perhaps a genuine question about whether this kind of witness might be unhelpful and even counter-productive. I had all these questions and all these fears.
In the end, three thoughts persuaded me to go. First, the fact of simply praying must be doing some good. Second, I know not just from reading about it but also from friends involved that this witness has really helped a few people to re-think what they are doing and supported them in keeping their babies; it’s given some people not just a new hope but also the practical support to do what deep down they wanted to do. It’s helped to really change hearts and minds. And third, I am often tempted to go round in circles considering the pros and cons of an argument, and I thought that I should just go and experience for myself what it is all about.
I won’t pretend every moment is easy. Every now and then someone will walk past and make a comment (‘It’s none of your business’, ‘A woman’s right to choose’), and in these moments I feel very awkward, and question what we are doing. But there is a pervading sense of peace and prayerfulness, and a heartfelt charity towards all those involved in the clinic. People at the vigil are not there to judge, but to pray and to offer hope. And you feel the reality of this prayer and hope when you are there, even if it highlights the starkness of the choices many people are facing.
It’s also true that the vigil becomes a small and rare sign in the middle of London, to ordinary passers-by, that abortion is an everyday reality in our city, and that there is another view, another possibility. Abortion is for the most part an unquestioned part of the tapestry of British life. I’m not judging anyone here; I’m judging the culture that normalises abortion and makes it seem strange that people would stand in vigil to offer an alternative voice.
I came away with my faith strengthened, glad to have been able to offer a small witness to life. I also came away encouraged in a very concrete way by the knowledge that when we were there one of the women on the vigil had been able to have a long and much appreciated discussion with someone visiting the clinic. What happened in the end I don’t know, but at least something was offered.
Another strange and unexpected effect on me was the sense of standing with those who are suffering, with those who have no-one else to stand with them – even if it has no ‘practical’ consequence. These innocent human beings who are being aborted have been ‘forgotten’ by their parents, by the doctors, by the nurses; but at least a few people are trying to show that they are not forgotten. It reminded me of the women standing at the foot of the cross – offering their compassion to the crucified Christ, even if this didn’t seem to help him directly.
So the 40 Days for Life vigil seems to me to be about prayer, witness, support and solidarity; things that are undeniably good, even if there remain complex questions about what they mean and how best to express them.
This ‘mission statement’ is from the blog.
40 days of peaceful prayer, fasting, and outreach to bring an end to abortion. We will help any person, whether mother, father, relative or friend, facing difficulties and considering an abortion. We also care about those that work at the abortion clinic. We pray for them and hope for their release from the culture of death, recognising that they too are wounded by abortion. We work for a change of hearts and minds, and a culture that defends life from conception.
And this is a summary of what the vigil is all about:
A peaceful and prayerful vigil opposite the abortion facility were countless unborn children are killed everyday. We stand in witness and prayer for the unborn children, their parents, and the people who work in the abortion industry.
Please join us daily anytime between 8am and 8pm, seven days a week.
We ask that each of our participants sign the statement of peace, abide by the law, and remain prayerful.
It is a really great help to the organisers if you could sign-up online and book which times you are able to join us at the vigil. This helps us to know which times are covered and which times need people present. Simply go to this link, sign-up, and choose you days and times.
Location: North West Corner of Bedford Square, London WC1B 3HP (Directions)
Dates: February 22, 2012 – April 1, 2012
Time: STARTS: 8:00 AM ENDS: 8:00 PM
Here is the ‘statement of peace’ you have to sign if you go as a registered participant:
1. I will only pursue peaceful solutions to the violence of abortion when volunteering with the 40 Days for Life campaign
2. I will show compassion and reflect Christ’s love to all abortion facility employees, volunteers, and customers
3. I understand that acting in a violent or harmful manner immediately and completely disassociates me from the 40 Days for Life campaign
4. I am in no way associated with the abortion facility/Planned Parenthood or its affiliates by way of employment, informant, volunteer, client, or otherwise
While standing in the city right of way in front of the abortion facility:
5. I will not obstruct the driveways or sidewalk while standing in the public right of way
6. I will not litter on the public right of way
7. I will closely attend to any children I bring to the prayer vigil
8. I will not threaten, physically contact, or verbally abuse the abortion facility/Planned Parenthood employees, volunteers, or customers
9. I will not vandalize private property
10. I will cooperate with local city authorities