World AIDS Day â€“ Dec. 1
United Methodists will educate themselves and others about HIV/AIDS and offer worship services focusing on prayer, hope in God and love and compassion. Offerings to the United Methodist Global AIDS Fund, Advance #982345, are encouraged. Learn more at www.2020aidsfreeworld.org or by writing 2020AIDSFreeworld@gmail.com.
AIDS stigmas remain: Ministry helps churches change perceptions
By Tita Parham
Can you get AIDS from a mosquito bite? How about eating food prepared by someone who has the disease? Or drinking after someone who is HIV-positive?
The Rev. Deborah Tanksley-Brown says some people still believe the answer to those questions is yes, despite all the information known about HIV/AIDS.
And without the facts, she says, people who don't have the disease are at risk of contracting it and those who do face stigmas that can isolate them from family, friends and faith communities.
Tanksley-Brown and H.U.B. (Helping Us Be) of Hope, a ministry of the Eastern Pennsylvania Annual Conference, are working with local churches to prevent both.
A United Methodist deacon, Tanksley-Brown is appointed as a medical case manager at Family Service of Chester County, a private nonprofit. She's also director of H.U.B. of Hope HIV/AIDS Ministry, which she helped start in 2003 as an outreach of United Methodist Church of the Open Door in Kennett Square, Pa., and a resource of the conference.
"During my journey in seminary, it was placed on my heart that the church needed to stand up and speak out about this issue ... to be in relationship with people who are living with, dying with, affected by HIV and AIDS," she said.
H.U.B. of Hope works to "inform, equip and mobilize faith communities to be information channels" for their congregations and communities, she explains.
It offers interfaith summits and events that educate members about the disease. It also helps churches connect with HIV service providers so they can better support people living with HIV/AIDS.
H.U.B. of Hope helped Siloam United Methodist Church in Chester, Pa., plan its new HIV/AIDS Ministry.|
|COURTESY H.U.B.OF HOPE|
One of its top priorities is helping churches become safe havens for those living with the virus. Tanksley-Brown says she works daily with people who have not disclosed their status to family, friends or pastors out of fear of being rejected or treated differently.
It's a very real fear. Tanksley-Brown says she still hears stories of church members who won't hold hands with someone who has the disease or eat off the same plates.
A "loss" exercise during the ministry's summits helps church members experience a sense of that isolation and discrimination.
Participants write their four closest relationships and favorite possessions, roles and activities on 16 sticky notes.
While they stand alone somewhere in the room, people pretending to be the virus snatch notes from each person's area. Participants then go back to their places and see what they've lost â€” their house, their job, their church.
"We keep reading in (professional) magazines of these stories about people who are being discriminated against and feeling that they cannot ... stay in their faith communities," Tanksley-Brown says.
Because of that and her own experience, she can't commit to being positive about strides being made.
"We are a people about hope," she says instead. "And I become more encouraged as faith communities are calling and asking (for presentations). ... We're (working with) a faith community at a time."
Committing to conversations
H.U.B. of Hope works closely with African-American and Latino faith communities because of the disproportionate effect the virus has on blacks and Hispanics, but Tanksley-Brown is quick to emphasize HIV/AIDS can happen to anyone.
Young women from Lincoln University in Pennsylvania sit at the table they decoarated for a "Sistas' Tea about H.I.V." The educational program was for all women 14 years old and above.|
|COURTESY H.U.B. OF HOPE|
"The virus doesn't care if you're white," she says. "It doesn't care if you're rich."
Tanksley-Brown says she has worked with people who thought they were in faithful, monogamous relationships, only to discover while being treated for pneumonia that they were HIV-positive.
She's seen young people equally surprised at testing positive after their first intimate encounter.
"Prevention is essential," she says.
That's why she and the ministry's partners strongly encourage churches to talk about sex and other hard issues, like substance abuse, domestic violence and unhealthy sexual habits.
Those are the precursors that put people at risk, she says, and those conversations need to happen with people of all ages, even older adults.
"Fifteen percent of the population of people 50 and older in the United States ... are living with HIV," she says.
And because sexually active older adults think safe sex means not getting pregnant, they aren't thinking about the possibility of contracting sexually transmitted infectious diseases.
"We have to talk to our seniors," Tanksley-Brown emphasizes.
The ministry provides a host of resources â€” from HIV information starter kits to brochures and fliers â€” to make those conversations easier.
H.U.B. of Hope receives funding through the United Methodist Global AIDS Fund, donations from local faith communities and a grant from the American Baptist Mission Societies.
The Eastern Pennsylvania Conference does not provide direct monetary support, but it does encourage and promote the ministry's efforts. Tanksley-Brown says Philadelphia Area Bishop Peggy Johnson has been a staunch advocate, sharing information about funding sources and holding a "testing event" at which she and members of her cabinet were tested for HIV/AIDS.
At annual conference each year, the ministry offers an HIV information station, providing resources for conference churches.
It's all done, Tanksley-Brown says, so the church can be "a welcoming, safe haven that is different from the world."
Tita Parham is a freelance writer, editor and communications consultant based in Apopka, Fla.
To learn more
Contact H.U.B. of Hope, www.umcod.org/HUBofhope.html, 210 S. Broad St., Kennett Square, PA 19348, firstname.lastname@example.org, (610) 444-2400.