On August 4, D. A. and Pat joined a panel hosted by Rev. Dr. Chris Davies for the United Church of Christ’s “Thursdays for the Soul” series. The discussion also included the testimony of Rev. Donna Schaper about her work with the Clergy Consultation Service and since; Faith Choice Ohio’s executive director, Elaina Ramsey; and Dr. Sherry Warren, the United Church of Christ’s minister for gender justice, speaking about ways people of faith can show up now that we look towards mounting state-led barriers to abortion access. If you missed the livestream, the entire program is available on YouTube.
We recently learned of the death of Carl E. Bielby, in April 2021. Rev. Bielby, the founder of the Michigan Clergy Consultation Service on Abortion, was a larger-than-life character who had numerous careers, all of them ultimately in service of justice and compassion.
Bielby was born in a suburb of Detroit and grew up Methodist. He played clarinet and later said, “Music was my first calling.” During high school, he moved with his family into a diverse neighborhood of Detroit. As a teen he had a born-again experience; he felt called to ministry, and he organized a revival meeting on a truck bed and played cornet with a group called Voices of Christian Youth. He attended conservative schools–Bob Jones University in South Carolina, and Asbury Theological Seminary in Kentucky–but not without rebelling against their more fundamentalist teachings. He studied counseling psychology, and counseling was what he really wanted to do.
After graduation, he served as associate minister at First Methodist in Owosso, Michigan, and DJ’d a religious radio show. He became solo minister at Asbury Methodist Church on Grand Avenue in Detroit, where his mission was to liberalize and integrate the church. His mentor was the Black minister of a nearby Methodist church. His marriage to his high school sweetheart broke up, and although the bishop disapproved of a divorced clergyman, he was called as co-pastor to a church in Warren, Michigan. He continued to study Methodist theology and pastoral counseling, and took classes at the Merrill-Palmer Institute on marriage, family, and human sexuality.
Eventually Bielby wanted to leave church-based ministry and became head of the marriage and family life department at the Metropolitan Detroit Council of Churches. It was in 1967, during his time there, that he became a founding member of the Michigan Council for the Study of Abortion, based at the University of Michigan. A public health professor from that group urged Bielby to start a Michigan Clergy Consultation Service on Abortion, and Bielby went to New York to learn how from Rev. Howard Moody. Then, Bielby said, he and other clergy met with Michigan State Police representatives to ask them, “How can we do this so that you can’t arrest us?” Bielby observed a Chicago doctor as he performed abortions, and when he returned to Detroit, he actually taught the technique to a prominent gynecologist and helped him to set up an illegal abortion practice in an apartment building.
What Bielby saw as necessary, he accomplished. He left Detroit and worked at other nonprofits, did career counseling–including for clergy who wanted to change careers– went into advertising and promotion, and later started the Redeem the Dream Foundation, which served young musicians. We don’t even know all that he did–he was a man of many interests and talents and enthusiasms. We are grateful for the abortion work that he did, and for his sharing his memories with us.
His July 17 memorial service may be viewed on Carl Bielby’s Facebook page. We extend our sincere condolences to all of his family and friends.
Hugh Hefner has died at the age of 91. We’d like to note a connection that not many of his obituaries will mention: that the Playboy magazine empire he founded also helped a group of Chicago clergy to start a chapter of the Clergy Consultation Service on Problem Pregnancies (as it was called there) and to expand throughout the Midwest.
Hefner started the Playboy Foundation in 1965 with the goals of “fostering open communication about human sexuality, reproductive health and rights, protecting and fostering civil rights and civil liberties in the United States for all people, and protecting freedom of expression.” Those were noble liberal causes . . . but one can’t help noticing that they also served Hefner’s own interests in enterprises that sexually objectified women for the gratification of men. It was a paradox for many grant seekers, especially for those who thought of themselves as feminists.
But Playboy Foundation grants went to some very good causes. Illinois Citizens for the Medical Control of Abortion, a legal reform group started in 1966, received one. It was through that group that the founder of the Chicago CCS, Rev. E. Spencer Parsons, first met University of Chicago doctoral candidate Ronald L. Hammerle. In 1968, the Chicago CCS received a Playboy grant that allowed Parsons to hire Hammerle as a full-time administrator for the group. Nationally, the CCS had almost no direct employees; only the Chicago CCS and the national group in New York seem to have found the means to hire a full-time (though temporary) employee through a grant.
Hammerle not only organized and administered the Chicago CCS but also reached out to organize CCS chapters in other Midwestern states and to find capable doctors. He collected follow-up reports from women about their experiences with doctors. Hammerle also kept statistics for the group and wrote his dissertation on the work of the CCS. His research provided statistics used by CCS clergy as they testified at state legislative hearings around the country. Women counseled by the Chicago clergy would never have dreamed that the referral service was partially funded by a Playboy Foundation grant.
When Hammerle’s year of full-time employment was done, Parsons and Hammerle decided not to reapply to the Playboy Foundation for funding. Hammerle moved on to work with the CCS’s New York City abortion clinic, Women’s Services, and then for Planned Parenthood in Chicago and Iowa. The CCS owed a great deal to Hammerle–and it was the Hefner business empire that had enabled the CCS to hire him.
It was five years ago now that Rev. Howard Moody died. He was a founder of the Clergy Consultation Service on Abortion. He was always its spokesperson, chief motivator, trainer, defender, and conscience, and yet always modest about the role he had played. In administering the group, he and Arlene Carmen made sure that the safety and dignity of women came first.
But he was first and foremost a prophetic preacher and pastor, and the CCS was only one of the many causes he championed. Under his ministry, Judson Memorial Church was a home for progressive people of many faiths, a haven for avant garde art, and the birthplace of modern dance. He worked for civil rights, fair housing, healthcare for sex workers, and the reform of drug laws, and many other causes, and he inspired generations of ministers and activists. His New York Times obituary gives a quick overview; you can get a better sense of his vision and work from his memoir, A Voice in the Village.
Even in retirement, Moody was so busy that it was always hard to pin him down. Both of us suffer from phone phobia, and it took many phone calls to arrange our first meeting with him. But once we finally met Howard and Lorry in person, we immediately wished to be adopted into their family–and, no doubt like everyone who met them, we felt that we had been. We visited with them whenever we were in New York City, and when we met them at their home in Santa Barbara, they took us out to a wonderful brunch. Howard was generous with his time and recollections, and with us. He was compassionate, a passionate advocate on behalf of others, charming, funny, bold, inspiring, and prophetic. How lucky we were to know him.
Over the years, we’ve lost many of the great figures of the Clergy Consultation Service on Abortion–Rev. Howard Moody, Arlene Carmen, Rev. Spencer Parsons, and others. And, just since the 50th anniversary of the group, we’ve received word of the passing of three more of the mightiest activists.
Rev. Marvin Lutz was a Presbyterian minister and co-chair of the Jacksonville, Florida, CCS. He headed that group’s successful efforts to open a nonprofit outpatient abortion clinic there–a clinic that became a model for others. It became known as the Max Suter Women’s Center for Reproductive Health, and he continued as its executive director for 20 years. He passed away on April 23, 2017, at the age of 83.
Rev. Allen J. Hinand, courtesy of his family
Rev. Allen J. Hinand was an American Baptist minister, one of the first friends Rev. Howard Moody called on to expand the CCS outside of New York. A civil rights and anti-war activist, Rev. Hinand founded and chaired the Pennsylvania CCS, which, by patiently educating local physicians, successfully persuaded Philadelphia hospitals to provide abortion care. He took special care to devolve power to women–including laywomen–who ultimately led the CCS in Pennsylvania. He died on June 18, 2017, in Claremont, California.
Liz Canfield, via Legacy.com
Elizabeth Kanitz Canfield was an Austrian immigrant–a refugee from Hitler’s invasion in 1938. She provided contraceptive education and–in those days–contraceptive foam to Hispanic farmworkers in the 1950s in Southern California. In the 1960s, she helped to found the Los Angeles Free Clinic, helped to liberalize the California abortion law, and was the co-founder of the Los Angeles CCS. She continued her activism in Albuquerque, advocating for and working with people with HIV/AIDS. She died on June 25, 2017.
We are grateful to have had the opportunity to meet all three of these great justice warriors, if only through telephone conversations. Their work lives on in the thousands of people they helped, the amazing organizations they led, and their own inspiring stories.