Four years ago, a pro-life group in the small northern Ontario town of Kirkland Lake was experiencing a crisis. It was a story familiar to many such groups across Canada who have been forced to shut down, even as the need for them grows. The three executive members of Kirkland Lake Pro-Life were getting on in age and their health was deteriorating.
Then one passed away and the president, veteran pro-lifer Dorothy Carston (now 89), felt she could no longer shoulder the responsibilities. At this critical point, she felt God was telling her to call a meeting and from the ashes of this meeting, a new executive was to be formed who would lead the group into a second life, or it would have to close down. Time would tell which one.
Brenda Howie, now an active member in her role as treasurer, tells of her initial reluctance: “I had been a member for a number of years, but just a member. You know, sometimes I read the newsletter, sometimes I didn’t and when she (Carston) was thinking of having a meeting, I remember saying to God, ‘I am not going to jump up and offer. I’ll do what you want, but I’m not just going to run in and say, oh, I’ll do that.’”
Of the meeting, Howie says, “It was a really strange meeting, because no one wanted their name to stand for anything.” The woman leading finally began asking individual people to consider taking over the old positions and when she asked Howie about being treasurer, she decided to accept. “I just sensed that that was what I needed to do and that’s how a new executive came out of it,” she said. “I went in not even thinking I would take anything.”
With young blood and a fresh perspective, the new leaders were able to breath new life into the organization. The group, currently numbering between 90 and 100 members when family memberships are taken into account, has since launched into a series of activities whose goal is to bring the culture of life into the midst of their community. The executive includes members from the Baptist, Pentecostal, Roman Catholic and Wesleyian churches.
At the start, Howie quickly realized they were badly in need of funds. “We can’t rely anymore on just memberships and a few donations. That was one thing that I noticed right away,” she told The Interim. “We can’t do anything without money; we have to fundraise,” she reported telling her colleagues.
The fundraising activities they organized have been a great success financially, while also serving to promote the cause. Among the activities is an annual Mother’s Day tea with a silent auction and bake table, an event that was moved to the school gym this year to hold the growing number of attendees. More than 50 local merchants participated by donating items and gift certificates, “which is incredible for this town” of 8,200, enthused Howie.
They also hold two summer garage sales across a total of five days. The biggest event yet was a Christmas concert in 2007 at a Pentecostal church, which was attended by 150 people. There were performances given by choirs and individuals and, at one point, “we even had the (cross-denominational) ministers get together and sing a song.”
On Saturday, Sept. 19, the group will be hosting a celebratory dinner to mark their 35th anniversary, with guest speaker Denise Mountenay.
In addition to these events, the members seek to educate the public by giving presentations, sending their pastors information, providing bursaries to local students and giving mothers of every local newborn a special baby gift pack.
Howie was recently invited to speak at a women’s Christian retreat, where they were taking up a collection for Kirkland Lake Pro-Life. She mentions how moved the women were by what she had to say: “Many of them were overwhelmed and astonished at the statistics I gave – basically shocked, because most of them didn’t know what was going on” in regards to abortion in Canada.
The story of Kirkland Lake Pro-Life is one of hope for the Canadian pro-life community and holds a secret to success that other groups in crisis would do well to imitate. “We’re busy,” says Howie in summary. “I’m busy,” she stressed, adding: “These other people who kind of felt that all the air was out of it, they are rejuvenated and they are coming on board.”