Faith In Action: A Best Practices Example of HIV/AIDS ministry
In the opening sermon of the General Conference, entitled “Back To The Future,” Bishop Theodore Larry Kirkland, Sr. challenged conference attendees to go back to the basics of spirituality. As I reflect on the HIV/AIDS epidemic, I recognize that this sermon title is just as applicable to the Getting To Zero campaign to eradicate HIV and AIDS. In order to normalize the HIV/AIDS discussion we must review the successful strategies that have been used to engage our communities, so as to provide support to infected patients, organize educational programs, and encourage members of every congregation to know their status.
In the late 1990’s to early 2000’s, Israel AME Church, Albany, New York organized the Faith In Action (FIA) Care Team upon receiving permission from Elder Harold Rutherford who was the pastor at the time and continued efforts under the leadership of Pastor John Justice. The FIA care team was responsible for increasing HIV/AIDS awareness among members of the congregation, organizing HIV testing, providing social support to an infected individual whose health had declined due to AIDS complications, and providing opportunities for HIV infected persons to offer their testimony during educational sessions at Sunday worship services. The FIA consisted of members who were affected by HIV/AIDS: individuals who were supporting their own infected family and friends as they made personal commitments to share Christ’s love with the community.
The FIA Care Team organized presentations at Sunday worship services during national awareness campaigns, namely, National Black HIV/AIDS Awareness Day, Black Church Lights the Way Week, The National HIV Testing Day, and World AIDS Day. During these campaigns, the team provided literature, organized onsite HIV testing by a local agency, and hosted educational sessions by staff of the Capital District African American Coalition on AIDS (CDAACA).
The FIA team also collaborated with the VNA (Visiting Nurses Association), who organized Care Teams for the express purpose of helping the community offer social support with persons who had a chronic condition. The FIA care team partnered with a woman whose health had begun to decline after several years living with HIV. The team celebrated her birthday, spent time in fellowship with her to decrease her isolation and loneliness, and aided her with activities of daily living. She eventually died from AIDS complications, but she lives forever in the memories of the FIA team. To honor her life, the team made an AIDS Memorial Quilt panel for the Albany Chapter of the Names Project.
In 2014, Rev. Charles A. Rogers, Sr., Pastor, St. James AME Church, New York Mills, NY and former member of Israel AME Church, participated in Rev. Dr. Oveta Fuller’s HIV/AIDS class while at Payne Seminary. He returned from that experience inspired with a plan of action to organize an HIV/AIDS program at his church. During his first year appointed at St. James, he preached a sermon on HIV/AIDS sermon title “The Time is Now”. He also invited a peer from a local organization called AIDS Community Resources (ACR) to provide her testimony and disseminated literature to the congregation during Sunday worship service. This created a safe space for members to share their testimony on the impact of HIV/AIDS on their families. In the fall of 2016, Pastor Rogers and the St. James family will host an HIV/AIDS educational session for Faith Leaders to discuss New York State’s Ending the Epidemic challenge and our Church’s role.
Going “Back to the Future” acknowledges the necessity to review successful strategies used to impart knowledge of the HIV/AIDS epidemic in order to eradicate it from our future. It is also a time to recognize the impact members of a congregation can have on persons living with HIV, those who are affected, and those who are unaware. We must create opportunities for dialog, provide HIV educational sessions, and help our AME members understand that we are HIV equal. We all have a status; either positive or negative. After we all learn our status, we must increase access for HIV+ individuals to seek treatment and provide social support. Given the thrust for HIV/AIDS awareness among members of the AME body, with passage of legislation mandating all churches provide HIV/AIDS education, it is important to know what was successful and to use these strategies to impart knowledge to our congregations through the Getting to Zero campaign to ensure a future without the HIV/AIDS epidemic.
Please visit the Health Commission website (amechealth.org) for links to resources.
Submitted by Sis. Perdietha Rogers, Israel AME Church, Albany, New York