Prenatal ministry adds new coordinator role

ROCK HILL—Judy Townsend took a leap of faith recently and signed up to be the volunteer coordinator for the diocesan Be Not Afraid program.

She and her family know firsthand what it’s like to eagerly await baby photos in an ultrasound room, only to have the mood shift, and joy drain away.

“Everything changes,” she said. “It’s not this wonderful joyous occasion anymore.”

Parents are given the devastating news that their baby has a defect and the chance of a healthy life, or life at all, is bleak. Townsend said this news is always followed, almost immediately, by the option to abort.

“Whenever you get a poor prenatal diagnosis, the fist thing you get is an offer for an abortion,” she said.

Without a support system, statistics show that 80 percent choose to end the  pregnancy.

Conversely, when people are connected to groups who offer compassion, support and an alternative, 80 percent choose life, Townsend said.

That’s why it is so important for pro-life advocates in the diocese to be involved and support Be Not Afraid, which is part of the Office of Family Life, she continued.

“There are so many ways to help,” she said. “We desperately need peer ministers, and volunteers for all sorts of things” such as photography, people who can knit, smock, scrapbook, make memory boxes, create newsletters, and so much more.

Townsend said it’s also imperative that priests and religious sisters let their parishioners know about the program. Announce it from the pulpit, put it in the church bulletin, and most of all, let expectant parents know about the group.

The new coordinator said a lot of people are scared to become involved because they don’t know what to do or say.

“It’s really simple,” she said. “We just want them to know they’ll be alright.”

Townsend served as a peer mentor for the first time recently and was present for the birth of the baby.

“It was such a wonderfully powerful moment,” she said. “The moms see the beauty in the baby. They see past the physical. They see the soul.”

She wishes Be Not Afraid had been around for her family when they found out their son would be born without a left ventricle. The doctors gave him little chance of survival.

But Townsend had an advantage. She was already interested in ministry that would help parents cope with a poor pre-natal diagnosis, even before she received one herself. So even though the group wasn’t formed yet, she knew support was out there.

She and her husband Jim continued the pregnancy. Their son, John Isaac, is 4½ years old now. He’s had three open-heart surgeries and survived MRSA, a deadly staph infection.

“He’s doing really, really well. It was touch and go there for a while. He’s a little walking miracle,” Townsend said.

She knows her story is a happy one, and not all will turn out that way. All anyone can do, she said, is “parent the child God gives us, for however long that is.”

And groups like Be Not Afraid will be there to help.

For more information, call Townsend at (704) 614-1516 or visit