At Greater Columbus Right to Life, we are entirely dependent upon the support of our friends, and about half of our yearly budget comes from our annual banquet, the success of which is generally proportional to the number of attendees. Thus, I’ve been very encouraged over the past month as registrations for our June 13th banquet with Matt Walsh have exceeded any of our past events. In addition to the financial needs of the organization, a large turnout is heartening because of the joy and excitement when pro-life people gather in large numbers. It gives us and our volunteers a spirit of hope to be unified together.
As registration grew, a quiet voice told me that I should check with our venue to verify their maximum – even though I “know” the number because it has been a mental goal for several years. After a few days of mental nagging, I decided I might as well check, and I sent a quick email and moved on. In minutes I received the reply, which I quickly read. Then I read it again, and again. We were not booked at our venue for June 13, but for June 1st. I sat there for a moment, stunned and silent. My first reaction was absolute panic – had I accidentally booked the wrong date a year ago? I searched through my emails and found my original inquiry. Indeed – I had inquired, scheduled, and confirmed the correct date – June 13th. After a minute, I took a deep breath, and replied – forwarding her our original communications and asking if she was looking at 2016 rather than a prior year. She said no, and further explained that there was another event booked the evening of June 13th, a traveling show with lunches and dinners and extensive tear down – not only had the event been double booked, but even I could see that we were not going to be able to be at the venue that night.
Before I get any further, let me clearly say that the folks at Villa Milano have been good friends of ours over the years. They do an amazing job for us and at a price that is significantly below any other caterer or venue and even below their menu price. This generosity is extraordinary and is a large part of why we have been able to sustain our efforts via the banquet. I look forward to returning to Villa Milano in years to come. This was a simple mistake, the kind I’ve made many times over the course of my life, and I know that the team at VM was horrified and embarrassed. I appreciate everything that they did to try to help us to come up with a good solution to the problem at hand.
That notwithstanding, this was not good news. I was shocked that it had happened and panicked about what we would do if we had to cancel or move to a more expensive venue. I was frustrated that “this” type of thing seems to always happen. I was disappointed that what had just looked like it would be our biggest and most successful event ever was in jeopardy of cancellation. I was afraid that people would think that it was my error or that GCRTL wasn’t being run efficiently. I was also a little angry that yet another bad thing had happened. I could not help but wonder if this was nothing more than the most recent sparring match in the spiritual battle that is ending abortion.
As these thoughts and emotions overwhelmed my brain, the calm voice of reason said, “This was just a little mistake. At least you found out with several weeks’ notice, rather than several days’ notice.” It gave me hope, a reminder that God creates good out of our messiest of situations. As I thought about it more, I realized that six months ago, a similar situation happened and we found out we could not have our Roe Remembrance event inside the Statehouse, so eventually we moved outside. In the end, winter storm Jonas hit Washington DC, cancelling hundreds of trips to the DC March for Life. Not only did we have our biggest Roe event in recent memory, but the group was so large that it would not have fit inside the Statehouse. Something better came along then, so I decided that something better will come along now, and it did.
I also realized that if I experienced all of this mental and emotional disruption because of a fundraising event, it must be far worse for someone facing an unplanned pregnancy, a severe disability, or a terminal illness. There are plenty of human tragedies in this world, and mine was not one of them. Abortion is a tragedy. Brain Cancer is a tragedy. Rearranging a dinner is a lot of work and an inconvenience and causes a bit of anxiety, but it is not a tragedy. With this perspective, I realized an unanticipated benefit, as we could now add several hundred attendees to our dinner. I found not only optimism, but an opportunity for putting a positive spin on the change – perhaps even letting people believe that we moved in order to accommodate a larger crowd.
So we moved forward. It was not easy, but we were working on an alternate plan and everything was going to be ok. My goal was to move to a new venue with a communications plan and messaging that kept me, GCRTL, and the good folks at Villa Milano from any embarrassment or loss of reputation. It is not, after all, a lie to present the facts in such a way that people draw the most charitable conclusion, is it?
After a lot of work and some help over a very short period of time, we signed a contract to be at the Lausche Building. As things calmed down and we developed a plan, I realized two things, and in different ways they both worry me. First: this location is not without its challenges – namely increased costs. I am amazed by and grateful for the generosity of the vendors who have helped us to find creative ways to contain costs. That notwithstanding, this year - more so than ever, we are relying on the generosity of our banquet attendees. Our costs are going to be a bit higher at the fairgrounds. For this reason, we are asking everyone to cover his or her own parking, at $5 per car. We are reaching out to some additional sponsors who we hope can help us fully underwrite the venue, technology, and meal costs so that every dollar raised on the 13th goes to support our mission. If you or your business can help, please let me know.
More importantly, I was surprised by how fear of loss of reputation guided not only my personal actions but the thought process of so many others. The concern was not limited to the organization or me personally; it extended to our friends at villa Milano. It is strange, although not unsurprising that as we worked through the problems and the emotions described earlier, the fear of how we would be perceived by our friends and supporters remained. Again and again, the Bible tells us not to fear, and yet having overcome so many other hiccups – our fear continued to guide our plans.
It made me realize just how strongly we are culturally conditioned to fear loss of reputation and avoidance of embarrassment when it is at all possible to do so. If that conditioning guides an accidental scheduling snafu for a fundraiser, I cannot imagine the weight it places on someone experiencing an unplanned pregnancy and on those who care about her. To approach family and friends and colleagues, to walk into the doors of her church, or to face uncertainty about employment, housing, or finances.
A month ago, I shared about a woman who took her daughter for an abortion. She professed to be a Christian, believed abortion was wrong, and planned to go to church after the procedure to pray for God’s forgiveness. It was sorrowful and unfathomably frustrating, but given how easily the “fix and spin” came to me over our banquet, perhaps I now have a bit of insight as to how this woman and her daughter faced an unexpected change in their plans and in the cacophony of emotions and the fear grabbed tightly to the buoy that society throws toward them: abortion. In a small way, I can understand this mother and her motivation a little better, and I am sharing it because I hope that you can too.
There is value in empathy. I think many good and faithful people reject this type of empathy because we have been brainwashed to think that it results in acceptance, but that is not necessarily true. Understanding can also help us to turn from evil and even to fight it.
Being prolife in this culture is not always an easy balance. With one hand we must hold tightly to the compass of absolute moral truth, and with the other we must reach out in mercy to help those who have stumbled, knowing that we are also stumbling. It is in that spirit that I am sharing with everyone this small stumble along our path, as a reminder that we should never hold a pregnant woman, the elderly, or the infirm to a standard different than we will hold ourselves – especially in small things.
In the end, I do not know if our change in venue bears the mark of spiritual warfare, if it was nothing more than a coincidence, if it was a response to my lack of understanding a few weeks ago, or if it was the providential hand of God acting in some way that I do not yet see. I do know that with the change in venue we are able to open up hundreds of additional tickets, and yet I can see how being forced to stop promotions for a few weeks while we figured out a new location has had an impact on our number of registrations. We have until June 6th to get people registered, and I hope that more do - because this is going to be an absolutely amazing night here in central Ohio, and I hope we will see you there. I would really love to see our biggest event ever despite all of these challenges.
If you would like to join us, register at www.gcrtl.org/banquet by June 6th. I would also invite you to share this event with friends, family, church small groups, and colleagues. If you are interested in sponsoring or volunteering the evening, I would love to talk with you, and if you cannot join us but would like to support our work, you can do so via our brand-new giving portal. Lastly, keep us, those we serve, and anyone we influence in your prayers.