Episcopal AIDS ministries evolve along with the epidemic
This article originally appeared at Episcopal News Service:
'Willing to be inconvenienced'
Looking at the future of Episcopal Church AIDS ministry, current NEAC board Chair Lola Thomas sees the need for increased hands-on ministry. Her own organization, the AIDS Alliance of Northwest Georgia, offers various educational and supportive services but always has included personal assistance for HIV/AIDS patients, whether they need a ride to the doctor or someone to feed their fish while they're in the hospital.
"I want the church to be willing to be inconvenienced," Thomas recently told the NAEC board. "People don't just die on our schedule. When people are in great need, many times that means that you have to jump in there and be willing to be inconvenienced.
"I really see ministry for people living with HIV to some extent being made a part, but a vital part, of just ministry in the church."
"Whether someone has HIV or they have cancer or they have whatever they have, it can be brought into ministry in a more inclusive way," she said, adding that this might help combat the continued discrimination against HIV patients. "We would also love to be able to provide more education to people in those parishes throughout the church so that they themselves are not afraid of HIV."
"In the early days," Thomas said, "NEAC convened a lot of educational programs and had conferences that all focused on HIV and AIDS, and this was at the time when you saw a lot of care teams in churches."
NEAC stopped offering conferences after attendance dropped during the 1990s, perhaps because people no longer needed the same education or because the crisis had shifted with the advent of new medications, she said. The coalition began working more "behind the scenes" and with individual groups, she said.
NEAC recently launched a new website as part of an effort to revive its networking role, said Matthew Ellis, executive director of NEAC and National Episcopal Health Ministries.
At the grassroots ministry level, "it's sometimes difficult to know exactly what's going on out there. We've not had a mechanism for people to connect," he said. The hope is that NAEC's site can spotlight best practices, list resources -- including educational tool kits and curricula -- and foster connections among people who otherwise can feel isolated in their ministry.
"One of the things that really we're looking to do is to really expand that network and to make people feel part of an AIDS community again in the Episcopal Church," Ellis said.
NEAC soon will release a written strategy in response to General Convention's 2009 charge in Resolution A162 for it to participate in developing a comprehensive response to the HIV/AIDS crisis, Thomas said. "NEAC does still see itself as providing a means for people to do HIV ministry, whether that be by sharing resources, sharing stories, helping people see how they can do ministry in relation to HIV and AIDS."