This church has AIDS.
Elsewhere in this first issue of 2004, the Anglican Journal has coverage of how churches and others marked World AIDS Day, Dec. 1, last month.
Sadly, the stories and images we were able to gather leave one, lasting, all-too-common impression behind: that AIDS is a disease of black Africans. (Of course, the other chief misconception is that, in the Western world, AIDS is still a gay disease.)
It is unfortunate that the coverage fosters this misconception. But, pause for a moment and reflect: how did your church mark World AIDS Day? A special collection for the Primate’s World Relief and Development Fund, which has recently focused much of its efforts on combating AIDS? Were educational resources, perhaps from PWRDF, displayed in the building? Was there a special AIDS Day liturgy? Did the prayers of the people mention those who are affected by HIV/AIDS?
Or did the weekend pass without any mention of World AIDS Day at all?
At some levels, the church has recognized the global crisis that AIDS represents. Nationally, in addition to PWRDF’s focus on AIDS, next spring’s meeting of General Synod will have as guest speaker Stephen Lewis, the United Nations’ special envoy for HIV/AIDS in Africa.
Additionally, in this issue, we have the story of a modest initiative in the diocese of Fredericton. A layperson has asked Anglicans in his diocese to contribute their loose $2 coins each week or month to the collection plate and the diocese hopes to present a cheque from the proceeds of the collection to Mr. Lewis at General Synod next June.
Still, though, it remains all too easy to dismiss the AIDS pandemic as a distant problem, a disease that seems restricted to communities that may not be our own.
It was not so long ago, in 2002, at a meeting of the Anglican Consultative Council that Canon Ted Karpf, a missioner for HIV/AIDS in the Church of the Province of Southern Africa, uttered the words quoted at the beginning of this editorial: “This church has AIDS.” He urged the church to respond to the AIDS crisis. At that same meeting, in Hong Kong, the council unanimously passed a resolution that encouraged churches to undertake AIDS education and information programs.
Surely, that did not mean churches in affected areas only. Churches in the West have much to learn about AIDS and just what it means for a continent to lose an entire generation to one disease.
Churches in sub-Saharan Africa might have been slow off the mark, but are now one of leading forces in AIDS education, care and treatment for those afflicted. In many areas, it is the churches that run the hospices that give dignity to the dying, the orphanages for the small victims left behind, that travel to the villages to educate women about reproductive health and how to get tested for HIV. They are also some of the more vocal advocates for ending the stigma of the disease.
There are more bright spots on the horizon. Canadian pharmaceutical companies pledged recently to work with Ottawa to allow generic drug makers to produce patented medicines for areas rife with AIDS and activists continue to lobby pharmaceutical companies in the United States and the United Kingdom for similar agreements.
Elsewhere, Rev. Gideon Byamugisha of Uganda, the first priest in the Anglican Communion to disclose his HIV-positive status, has developed a ministry of AIDS education and travels the world to tell the church of his experience and put a human face on the issue.
(Mr. Byamugisha’s testimony at a 2001 meeting of primates in Kanuga, N.C., is acknowledged as the impetus that moved Anglican leaders worldwide to make AIDS a priority.)
The Canadian church had much to be proud of last year when all 30 dioceses ? even those that had no involvement in residential schools ? agreed to support the General Synod in its settlement agreement with the federal government. Universally, the dioceses echoed the same sentiment: a problem in one area of the church belonged to the whole church. If one part of the body is hurting, the whole body hurts.
There is no question about it: this church has AIDS, a part of the body of the Anglican Communion is hurting. Will you learn how you can help?