World AIDS Day is on Sunday, December 1 this year, but for 37 million people around the world, living with HIV and AIDS is an everyday reality.
Millions who don’t know their status are at risk of infection or spreading infection, which also affects the millions they support and nurture through family and community life. The United Nations theme for World AIDS Day 2019 is “Communities Make the Difference.”
Let’s remember our brothers and sisters as we gather for worship on Sunday, December 1, the first Sunday of Advent. And let us become members of a worldwide community that makes a difference for people living with AIDS.
“World AIDS day is not only a time to remember those who have been infected by HIV AIDS but also a time to celebrate those who are surviving HIV and AIDS,” says the Rev. William Brawner, pastor of Haven-Peniel and Midtown Parish UMCs in Philadelphia. He serves on the UMC Global AIDS Committee.
“Far too often, we look at HIV and AIDS as a punishment or a personal setback… We look at those who are HIV-positive as lepers. It’s now time that we change our perspective to a positive understanding that this disease is no longer a death sentence.”
“Science has come a mighty long way since we recorded our first positive diagnosis,” Brawner explains. “We have medications with very few side effects and preventive therapies that protect partners from becoming positive. We have more people than ever not just surviving but thriving. So instead of us looking at HIV and AIDS as doom and gloom, let us continue to move forward together in a hopeful spirit of promise and peace.”
“On Sunday, December 1, let us all engage in honest dialogue about HIV testing, prevention and counseling,” urges the young pastor, who is also the Eastern PA
Conference Coordinator of Urban Ministries. “As Christians we have a personal responsibility and a spiritual and moral obligation to love the entire body of Christ. HIV and AIDS should never be a barrier but a bridge that brings us together in healing relationships as we become one in Christ.
Brawner has worked for years with the Rev. Deborah Tanksley-Brown, of West Chester, who created the conference-affiliated H.U.B. of Hope HIV/AIDS Ministry. (H.U.B. stands for Helping Us Be.)
“The fight to end HIV/AIDS continues,” she says. “While there have been decreases in new infections, communities of color in the U.S. and globally are still disproportionately impacted and still dying too often.” She cites the fact that African Americans account for 43% of new infections, “and we are only 13% of the US population.” *
“We often say it takes a village to raise a child,” says Tanksley-Brown, a deacon and longtime member of Church of the Open Door UMC in West Chester. “Well, as one who has supported many who are living with HIV/AIDS, I recognize the need for the village or the community to continue offering nurture and support to people living with this disease throughout their lives, especially as they experience a myriad of related life challenges.”
“We have the power to get to zero infections,” she asserts. “Fear, stigma, and discrimination are major barriers to people getting tested and treated. What we do not know does hurt us both individually and collectively. Communities of faith can serve as epicenters for HIV education, testing and advocacy, in partnership with HIV service providers. In doing so, we live out our call to love our neighbors as ourselves.
To participate in observing World AIDS Day download and print the Communities Make the Difference flyer/bulletin insert to share and display throughout your church and community. As we work towards combating HIV/AIDS globally through prevention, education, support and capacity development, consider also giving to support the UMC’s Global AIDS Fund today. (Read the UM Global AIDS Fund resolution approved by the 2016 General Conference.)
Also, learn and share stories about communities making a difference in HIV/AIDS ministry by visiting the UMC Abundant Health website.
* On February 8, 2020, the Eastern PA Conference Urban Commission will host a National Black HIV/AIDS Awareness Day Event. Cost: $5. Time: 11 AM – 2 PM. Location: Wharton-Wesley UMC (5341 Catharine Street, Philadelphia, PA 19143).