Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Has the Church Forgotten It Has AIDS?

June 4 - 6, the Fourth Province of The Episcopal Church held its regular synod meeting at Kanuga Camp and Conference Center near Hendersonville, NC. Bruce Garner, Integrity's Province IV Coordinator, attended the synod in his capacity as a Lay Deputy to next year's General Convention from the Diocese of Atlanta.  He is one of three openly LGBT Deputies from that deputation.

Bruce set up a display in the lobby of the meeting room that included Integrity USA's tri-fold back drop, an assortment of brochures and a couple of baskets of buttons.  He also included a sign-up sheet for anyone who might be interested in being the contact person for their

During a synod plenary session, Bruce made a presentation on the Province IV Network of AIDS Ministries Annual HIV Retreat, which would follow the synod on June 6-8.  This presentation included some startling statistics about HIV/AIDS in Province IV.  (He is Vice Chair of the planning committee that produces the retreat, now in its 23rd year.)  He then co-facilitated a workshop that went into more detail about how HIV/AIDS was affecting
Province IV with a much greater proportion of infections than the rest of the country and church.  (His co-facilitator was Lola Thomas, who chairs the Planning Committee and is Executive Director of a semi-rural AIDS service provider.)

He writes:
"Of the ten cities in the US with the highest HIV incidence rates, six of them are in Province IV.  Of the 20 highest, 12 are in Province IV.  And of the 50 highest, 19 are in Province IV.  The fourth ranked city for incidence rates is Jackson, Mississippi.  These figures were eye opening to those at the well they should be.

The sad reality is that The Episcopal Church has essentially abandoned domestic HIV/AIDS ministries.  As far as I know, the Kanuga Retreat is the only major HIV/AIDS activity undertaken as a Episcopal event anywhere in the church, beyond a handful of parish and diocesan ministries.  We have gone from being on the cutting edge to dragging up the rear.  Yet infection rates continue to rise with the fastest growing group being young men in their 20's and 30's, about half of whom are African American.  Most Episcopalians do not see many folks of color in their pews and thus do not realize we still have a problem."

The National Episcopal AIDS Coalition  provides some resources for individuals and congregations who seek to include HIV/AIDS concerns in their ministry.  The Welcoming Parishes Initiative provides guidance on how to become better educated about prevention, treatment and pastoral care, ideas for community involvement, and media for making your intentions known.

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