By Jeff Walton
Robed in purple and accented with mittens and scarves to fend off chilly temperatures, 15 bishops from the Anglican Church in North America braved inclement weather in the nation’s capital Jan. 25 to mark the 40th anniversary of the Supreme Court’s Roe v. Wade decision that legalized abortion nationwide.
“We’d all like to see the culture of death turn into a culture of life, wouldn’t we?” ACNA Archbishop Robert Duncan said in an interview before the U.S. Supreme Court Building during the annual March for Life. “I’d very much like to see the mass killing of babies brought to an end. We’ll do what we have to do, and speak as we have to speak.”
While estimates on the number of total participants at the pro-life rally varied widely, it was clear that, despite challenging weather, the march attracted a record crowd.
“It’s unbelievable how many people are here,” said Bishop Steve Breedlove as tens of thousands packed Constitution Avenue between 7th Street and the Supreme Court. “I want to catalyze our churches to be involved. I have a determination to rally our church around this.”
Duncan, Breedlove and the other bishops came to Washington at the invitation of Bishop John Guernsey of the ACNA’s Diocese of the Mid-Atlantic, which includes the District of Columbia.
“The sanctity of human life is a deeply held doctrine that is embedded in the founding documents of our province,” Guernsey said. “The Constitution and Canons of the Anglican Church in North America proclaim that ‘God, and not man, is the creator of human life.’ We believe that the unjustified taking of life is sinful and that we are all called to promote and respect the sanctity of every human life from conception to natural death and to minister healing with compassion to all who suffer as a result of this sin.”
Guernsey said of Roe’s legacy that “no one is untouched by the loss of 55 million unborn children over the past 40 years.”
Throughout the march, young activists displayed signs proclaiming “I am the Pro-Life Generation” and “One-Third of My Generation Has Not Survived Abortion.”
Guernsey was echoed by Bishop William H. Illgenfritz of the Missionary Diocese of All Saints, who shared his encouragement at seeing the overwhelming number of people in their teens and 20s take up the pro-life cause.
“Such a joy to see all these young people here,” Illgenfritz said as the procession turned past the National Gallery of Art and moved toward the Capitol.
The bishops joined march organizers at a prayer service held before the procession in Constitution Hall, near the White House. With them were two busloads of Anglicans who arrived from Truro Anglican Church in Fairfax, Virginia, as part of a contingent organized by Anglicans for Life that has participated in the march since 1983.
“For many years, it was a small number of us marching, but our numbers have been growing and this year we had over 100 Anglicans,” said AFL President Georgette Forney. Previously known as the National Organization of Episcopalians for Life, AFL has provided a pro-life voice for Anglicans at an event that is largely populated by Roman Catholic schools, dioceses and orders.
“AFL isn’t just concerned with ending abortion. We want to reach out to anyone who is hurting, and let them know reconciliation with God is available to them,” Forney said. The AFL leader appeared onstage alongside many others who had experienced abortion in order to “bear witness to God’s grace and healing for anyone who has been touched by abortion.”
Breedlove and the other bishops relayed their belief that God was completely committed to protecting and preserving life, and that it was necessary to stand in solidarity defend “the least and lost and those who are under threat of abortion.”
“Life is integrally related to the truth,” said Bishop Ray Sutton, head the ACNA’s Ecumenical Relations Committee. “To stand for one is to stand for the other.”
While the 15 bishops constitute the largest group of Anglican leaders to appear at the annual march, they are not the first. In previous years, Henry Scriven, former assistant bishop in Pittsburgh, offered an invocation at the beginning of the march. Bishop Martyn Minns of the Convocation of Anglicans in North America has also attended.
“The active participation in the March for Life of more than a third of our bishops was a very public demonstration that a commitment to life is at the core of who we are as Anglican Christians,” Guernsey said.
“I’ll be back,” Illgenfritz promised.
Photo by Joy Gwaltney/ACNA Diocese of the Mid-Atlantic