Tending to St. James Episcopal Church’s Facebook page typically isn’t a lot of work for the Rev. Dawn Frankfurt, the church’s rector since 2011.
That changed last week.
That’s when people started posting they were outraged that the church on East Douglas in College Hill was playing host to a “Chili for Choice” fundraiser Jan. 22 – the anniversary of the landmark Roe v. Wade Supreme Court decision that affirmed abortion as a constitutional right. The fundraiser for Planned Parenthood of Kansas and Mid-Missouri will benefit Wichita’s clinic, which provides reproductive care such as well-woman exams and contraceptives but doesn’t offer abortion services.
“Tons of awful stuff was being posted on our Facebook page,” Frankfurt said. “Our reach was up to about 18,000 people. I almost immediately turned off the ability to make posts on our page.”
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People no longer could post to the page, but they still could comment on posts. Frankfurt eventually reported comments to Facebook, and since then, the number of posts she considered offensive have dwindled.
The event has been at St. James the past four years and had never been the subject of protest before, she said Tuesday.
“But last Monday when we came to work,” Frankfurt said, “the phones were just starting to ring off the hook. People were asking ‘Are you really hosting a chili event to celebrate 42 years of murder?’ ”
Some messages warned members of the church that they were going to hell.
“We knew immediately there was something going on,” Frankfurt said. “We became aware it was a bigger deal than we thought on Wednesday of last week when the Wichita police called and said ‘We’ve been made aware of a protest that may happen at your church and we’d like to talk to you about it.’ ”
Frankfurt said the church expects a protest by members of anti-abortion groups the Sunday after the event, on Jan. 25.
“We’re telling people to come to church as usual and to trust that those who are protesting probably have protested before and know what the rules are,” she said.
Planned Parenthood is providing security the day of the event and on Jan. 25.
David Gittrich, state development director for Kansans for Life, said his group is “in the process of formulating some plans. We don’t think Jan. 22 is a day of celebration. We think it’s a day of mourning.”
The calls, e-mails and posts on social media aren’t deterring St. James.
“The Episcopal church says you can form your own opinion about reproductive justice and you can be against it or for it. There’s room for everybody in the Episcopal church to come together and worship God,” Frankfurt said. “We’ll see how this goes, but I don’t feel like changing my mind on supporting (Planned Parenthood).”
Bishop Dean Wolfe of the Episcopal Diocese of Kansas doesn’t either.
“Faithful churches take risks to help people in need,” he said in an e-mail to The Eagle. “Saint James Episcopal Church has been serving people in need in the Wichita community since it was founded in 1920.”
The Episcopal Church, along with the United Methodist Church, United Church of Christ, Y.W.C.A. and the American Jewish Congress, he said, “has for decades supported women’s reproductive health services, whose primary purpose has been to offer maternal care to women in need.”
“The decision to offer the Saint James parish hall for a Planned Parenthood chili supper fund-raiser (for the fourth year in a row) has resulted in the church receiving hate-filled email, angry phone calls, and a variety of veiled threats,” he said. “These attacks, most of which have originated outside the Wichita community, are unwarranted and have previously led to dangerous and violent escalations. They do nothing to honor the diversity of opinion many citizens and many Christians hold regarding these issues, and they do not recognize the needs of women, many of whom are without adequate financial resources, to have the kind of health care they so desperately need.”
Susan Moeder, a volunteer for Planned Parenthood who helps organize the event, said this year “I think we just got on somebody’s radar screen.”
Moeder attends College Hill United Methodist Church, and she said some people have mistakenly thought that church was sponsoring the event. Moeder does cook the chili at College Hill and then takes it over to St. James. St. James allows beer and wine to be served at its events, while the Methodist church does not.
“I think somehow (Moeder’s) affiliation with College Hill got plugged into whatever information got out there and that St. James was hosting it for College Hill. That’s not the case,” said the Rev. Kent Little of College Hill United Methodist.
He added his church supported the fundraiser “but can’t take credit for it.”