The 2021 Heartbeat International Annual Pregnancy Help Conference wrapped up Friday after celebrating 50 years of pregnancy help, presenting a week of invaluable training, and gathering hundreds and hundreds from across the U.S. and beyond both virtually and in person.
Running Apr. 27-30, the Conference offered 150 workshops, seven inspirational keynote speakers, and a full day of multiple in-depth training sessions, most delivered simultaneously in both a virtual and in-person conference.
Heartbeat’s Conference is the biggest pregnancy help event in the world, and 2021 bore that out. The 2020 Conference had been retooled in short time last spring to proceed amid the early coronavirus fallout. This year marked the return of the in-person event – attended by more than 800 in Columbus, OH, and also featured a virtual option, with more than 700 taking part.
Keynote speakers at the in-person event included Darren Mulligan from We Are Messengers, Nicole C. Mullen, Brad Stine, Sister Dede Byrne, Bishop J. Alan Neal, Rob McKenna and Peggy Hartshorn, Heartbeat's Chairman of the Board.
Whether in person or through cyber space, connecting with others, gratitude, excitement and faith were the order of the week.
“We did it!” Jor-El Godsey, president of Heartbeat International, exclaimed. “We, together, reclaimed the much-needed in-person gathering experience.”
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“Relationships can be virtual,” he said, “but they are best when in-person. For a ministry whose primary value is trusted relationships, this was a major step to reclaim what the pandemic had taken away.”
Godsey also noted that, not just the Heartbeat team, but everyone that exhibited, attended, and visited, prayed with Heartbeat during the week.
Andrea Trudden, Heartbeat’s senior director of Marketing and Communications, explained how the lessons of the last year fed into presenting the Conference.
“From the beginning, we knew this conference was going to be important and necessary for the movement,” Trudden said. “This mission is so mighty and throughout a pandemic we continue to learn new ways of adapting in order to serve our communities.”
“This Conference gave us an opportunity to share what we learned over the last year while reinforcing positive education and inspiration to those on the front lines,” she said.
“The mission of pregnancy help is essential,” added Trudden. “The prospect of hosting a conference this year was never in question, but rather how to do it effectively. From the feedback we’ve heard so far, I believe we were able to do just that!”
Heartbeat International is the largest and most expansive network of pregnancy help in the world, serving over 2,800 pregnancy help locations on every populated continent, wherever abortion alternatives are provided.
The theme for Heartbeat's Annual Conference was "Essential," drawing from a term used regularly over the last year to denote certain sectors of U.S. labor, and more importantly, reflecting the crucial nature of pregnancy help.
Annual Conference sessions are offered at basic, intermediate, and advanced levels for pregnancy help organizations, which include pregnancy help centers, pregnancy help medical clinics, maternity homes, adoption agencies and abortion recovery groups.
Presentations cover subject areas including medical, leadership, management, sexual integrity, sexual health, client culture, client programs, abortion recovery, spiritual wholeness, emotional health, addiction recovery, fundraising, marketing for donors, marketing for clients, board business, human resources, housing, and adoption.
Those in Columbus for the in-person event had a choice of a variety of workshops, roundtable discussions, product demonstrations, and the keynote sessions, plus Heartbeat International's 50th birthday celebration.
There were also several intensive offerings on the pre-conference in-depth day. Those topics included the Abortion Pill Rescue Network, understanding one’s calling in life, a housing roundtable, volunteer and staff training through The LOVE Approach, on-line marketing, leadership, fundraising, an executive roundtable, and hands-on ultrasound trainings.
For those joining the Virtual Conference, there were more than 50 workshops available, including live Q&A with presenters.
Most international affiliates could not join in person because of coronavirus-related travel restrictions. Heartbeat honored them at the in-person Conference with its annual Parade of Nations, that this year had each international affiliate’s flag carried by volunteers drawn mainly from in-person Annual Conference attendees. The Parade of Nations saw 78 countries honored where Heartbeat affiliates serve across the world.
Betty McDowell, Vice President of Ministry Advancement for Heartbeat, was grateful for the Conference, and expressed joy for being with people both on site and virtually.
“I have such gratitude to God for all that was accomplished this week through the Conference,” she said. “I know there was so much more going on than what I could observe, and I am so thankful we got to be a small part of what our big God is doing.”
There were challenges for sure in presenting the event.
Godsey said navigating safety rules was a significant task. The rules changed over the critical planning months and weeks, he said, some that helped, but others that made it more difficult to host a meaningful in-person experience. Constraints on distancing decreased the ability to pack an especially popular workshop, and even then, the Heartbeat team worked hard to make it the best and relied on the grace and understanding of those in attendance.
“For the record book,” Godsey said, “this is the first time we hosted two conferences at the same time - one an in-person experience and the other a virtual venue. Two conferences, both with great content that represent a real value for participation.”
“We had determined many months ago to move forward with a conference,” said McDowell. “We did not know exactly what the conference would like but we knew God had given us the word Essential as our theme - so it seemed to us if we in the pregnancy help community was truly essential, our God would see us through to have an "Essential" conference.”
The core conference planning team met regularly, she said, starting the planning by prayerfully consecrating everything to God.
“We asked God to give us wisdom, words and scripture to direct us,” she said. “As we prayed, we felt God reassuring us that the Conference(s) would happen, and we needed to remain flexible as things would be shifting along the way - and shift they did. Sometimes that shift happened by the hour as the health department and governor changed meeting mandates and business restrictions. I think I can say our team felt like we planned about eight conferences as we flexed with the changes.”
Trudden said that while hosting both a virtual and in person conference was new, it was a powerful way to stay connected to all of Heartbeat’s affiliated pregnancy health organizations around the world.
“We were able to provide them with virtually and in person with the education and inspiration that the heartbeat international conference provides each year,” she said. “It was our blessing to be able to still offer this to our pregnancy help network worldwide.”
Faith and perseverance are among the Conference takeaways for members of the Heartbeat team.
Godsey said lingering lockdowns in some regions, especially among Heartbeat’s international friends, and reticence to tackle travel challenges, affected attendance. But this did not prevent people from attending virtually or dampen enthusiasm on either platform.
“It is easy to get discouraged by the news from the White House that has emboldened Big Abortion and empowered abortion profiteering,” he said. “Attacks against pregnancy help centers, Heartbeat International, and, especially, Abortion Pill Reversal, are ramping up as well.”
“This "Essential" conference has encouraged, excited, and invigorated those on the frontline for the good work of pregnancy help,” Godsey said.
Ellen Foell, Heartbeat’s International Specialist, remarked on Heartbeat staff’s determination to provide a valuable event for pregnancy help servants.
“Rain, snow, hail, sun, sleet, nothing will stop the Pony Express or Heartbeat International,” Foell said.
McDowell said the Conference was worth withstanding the challenges, and that the Lord is in charge.
“God is faithful to do what He said He would do,” McDowell said. “The hard work and the challenges were worth it.”
“We have an incredible team at Heartbeat who serves a mighty God, and the world is a better place because of the network of faithful people in pregnancy help organizations,” she said. “Hearing the testimonies of moms makes the efforts of pregnancy help worth the hardships we all have faced and will face.”
Personal relationships are an integral part of Heartbeat International’s work, including the Conference. But there is always more to the story – and it usually involves God.
“Our team plans and prepares, but it is so often that the Holy Spirit weaves the conference in ways we could not have anticipated beforehand,” said Godsey. “The Lord is faithful to receive our offering and multiply it for the precious pregnancy help people who join us for the adventure.”
Foell said there is not a more comprehensive, robust training for life affirming work anywhere.
“Heartbeat International is here to tend to our pregnancy help friends, mind, body, soul and heart,” she said. “We love Jesus, we serve our attendees for Jesus’ sake.”
“I hope they know we take our work and calling seriously, and we take their work and calling seriously,” McDowell said of the pregnancy help community. “We aim to encourage, educate, empower the key leaders in the pregnancy help community and we continually learn from the community. We know and believe we are better together."
Prayer and planning are already in progress for the 2022 Conference.
Godsey said his favorite part of Heartbeat’s annual Conference comes with experiencing things together, whether something powerful and impacting from the event or the togetherness of the team in putting the Conference together.
“As a team we gather in the evenings for Team Time and share what we heard and what we saw,” he said. “Usually, this is a glimpse of what God is doing with the gift of the Conference that we have offered up to Him.”
Foell said she always loves the way Heartbeat team goes into “gracious, gentle, get-Er-done mode, also adding, “Overhearing attendees talk about conference, sessions, prayer time with such enthusiasm; watching the way God works in individuals’ lives.”
McDowell shared that, “Having our team together as many of us had not seen each other in person in over a year,” was one of her favorite aspects of Conference, along with, “watching attendees connect with speakers, each other, our staff, the hotel staff and the joy and grace that went with the connection.”
Enthusiasm and gratitude were obvious among Conference participants.
“The energy and joy seen throughout the conference was very evident,” Trudden said. “Our attendees were gracious, thankful, and incredibly encouraging.”
“We were honored to be the first event hosted by the hotel in over a year, allowing hundreds of people to come back to work and be re-employed,” she said. “They commented on feeling the warmth and joy from our conference.”
Foell commented on what she saw from participants, stating,” Enthusiastic gratitude for Conference being live.”
“The attendees were the most gracious, kind people,” said McDowell. “Our team was blessed to serve in any way we could as we could see the joy of the attendees, face-to-face and on-line.”
“We know the attendees made a great commitment to invest in coming and participating,” she said. “Watching attendees connect with each other and with Heartbeat - Learning, loving, and laughing together (crying too) was so sweet. I believe many were reaffirmed in their calling to pregnancy help work.”
Asked what he observed among attendees, Godsey said, “Joy! Excitement to be together. Connection! Everything we had prayed for and more.”
The location for Heartbeat International’s next Conference was announced at the close of the 2021 event. The next Conference will take place in Jacksonville, FL, March 30 – April 1, 2022.
Editor's note: This article has been updated with additional data.