Authenticity is important and “Eliz actually wasn’t the first woman to share her abortion testimony at our church,” Pastor Tracy Johnson of Christ Presbyterian Church (EPC) in Springfield, Massachusetts, reflected. “Several years prior, another woman in our congregation first discussed sharing her abortion story with our members.” Her bravery and boldness took everyone by surprise as they heard how her trauma began on a Good Friday when she chose to end her child's life through abortion.
As someone who identified as a Catholic at the time, she reeled under shame and condemnation, amplified by the timing of it all. But she also shared about the grace she found later through forgiveness and a relationship with Jesus. The fact that it was Good Friday when she shared her testimony with the church underscored the redemptive power of God’s grace and ability to restore everything.
Therefore let us keep the Festival, not with the old bread leavened with malice and wickedness, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth. —1 Corinthians 5:8
“I wasn’t sure at first how our members would respond since we had never before had a testimony like that, but I thought it was worth the risk,” Tracy decided. “But I was blown away by how relevant the topic was to our people. I had five women come up to me after the service to disclose their own personal experiences with abortion and the painful secrecy and shame they had endured ever since. I realized then that we needed to do a better job at caring for these individuals and families, but I just wasn’t sure how.”
A few years later, another pastor brought the matter to the forefront again during a meeting of fellow EPC pastors. Elizabeth Tongue who was present in the audience listened intently as Greg Austen, an EPC pastor and Care Net’s Executive Director of Church Outreach & Engagement, informed the group about Making Life Disciples.
He described the then video-based training as a means to equip the church with the education and counseling tools they need to come alongside families facing pregnancy decisions and offer compassion, help, and hope. “To be honest, I kind of dismissed it because I felt like it wasn’t that relevant to our specific congregation,” Tracy explained. “But Eliz heard the news through a different lens—as a woman who had personally experienced what Greg was saying.”
Greg remembered the moment well. “Eliz came up to me after my talk with tears in her eyes and shared that she had two abortions in her past. She had shared her story with her prison ministry group but had never opened up to anyone at her church.” Greg was touched by her honesty and encouraged her to follow the Spirit’s lead.
“It wasn’t so much of a nudge by the Holy Spirit as it was a compulsion,” Eliz described as she remembered the way she felt after listening to Greg. “Considering my experience with the women at the prison and then hearing Greg’s talk, I knew it was what I had to do.”
Pastor Tracy was on board and opened the pulpit to her at an evening service a few weeks later. Once again at Christ Presbyterian, the painful truth about abortion and the healing power of Jesus settled over the small group of listeners who sat in the audience.
And again, several women came forward after the talk to thank Eliz for her bravery and to admit they shared similar abortion experiences. The women began their own support group led by Eliz and worked to help each other find the full healing each one needed. Tracy was thrilled to see a member of his own congregation leading others to wholeness.
But just a year later, COVID hit and the group disbanded. Wrestling with the challenges brought on by the pandemic, the church shifted focus and the abortion issue took a back seat to other pressing issues. But God wasn’t finished with His work!
Four years later, at another Presbytery meeting, Greg was invited to devote an entire hour to explaining the newly revised Making Life Disciples 2.0. He showed clips from the online videos and relayed statistics that convinced Tracy to take another look at the course. Then Eliz, invited by Greg, boldly shared her story again, emphasizing the need to truly disciple those facing life decisions and those devastated by past choices for abortion.
This time the presentation struck a chord with Tracy. He could easily see that the principles and practices taught through the MLD training would benefit church members in a variety of ministry applications in addition to the abortion vulnerable. “I saw it like a discipleship 101 class,” Tracy explained but added that he also had some concerns about how some members might receive it.
“I remember going home and talking to my wife about what I had heard and how I really felt like our whole Sunday School class needed to go through the training, but truth be told, I was a little scared,” he admitted. “It’s a divisive topic in a politically diverse congregation” he said, explaining his reservations to his wife.
But she quickly countered, “True, but what kind of community do we have here if we’re not able to sit down together and have the hard conversations that are so necessary?” Tracy knew she was right, and he led the charge, taking the 10-member Sunday school class through the course.
“You know, it’s kind of funny,” Tracy chuckled. “We’re only midway through the training and our Sunday School class has now grown to over 25 members. The members who were initially triggered and fearful that I was leading them down some misogynist path were relieved to find that the MLD material was able to marry truth with grace in a beautiful, non-shaming, or condemning way.”
The course was simply a catalyst for conversation and an attitude shift among the whole congregation. “I’m not saying it’s perfect,” he couched his enthusiasm. “But we’re discussing every section and not shying away from the issues. We even critique the material, making recommendations for improvement, particularly in the area of comforting the post-abortive,” he added. “But it’s a great start for us—a positive step in the right direction to build on the culture of love and life we’re growing here.”