Friday, March 20, 2009

Action in Houston

Have any of you seen this?

Houston Chronicle Examines Local Church's Efforts To Increase HIV Testing

The Houston Chronicle on Wednesday examined efforts by pastors at the predominantly black St. John's Church in Houston to encourage people to receive HIV tests. St. John's offers HIV testing, among other services, through the non-for-profit Bread of Life. Amber David, a counselor at the church, serves as an advocate for testing, urging congregants to be screened during monthly "Get Tested" Sundays. St. John's Pastor, Rudy Rasmus, began an HIV campaign among congregants 15 years ago, after "too many funeral service requests for young people who died" from AIDS-related causes, he said. Rasmus says the church serves as an effective forum for reaching the black community because it is historically the center of the community. According to Houston health department data, blacks account for more than half of all new HIV cases in Harris County, and black teenagers represent most new cases among all adolescents. St. Johns' Bread of Life tested 700 people in 2008 (George, Houston Chronicle, 3/18)

I am amazed and blessed when I read articles like these. It's conforting for me to see churches becoming more involved in slowing the HIV/AIDS pandemic.

I recently had a conversation with the senior minister of a Disciples congregation and offered to help plan and conduct an HIV/AIDS focus group at his church building and offer free and anonymous HIV testing. Imagine my surprise when the minister told me that his congregation was not affected by HIV and that he was afraid that if we discussed HIV, and in particular condoms, we would be encouraging his flock to engage in sexual relations.

I'm sad to say that I didn't have the words that this minister needed to hear. I pray that the Spirit will reach him.

When we first considered offering testing as an outreach project at General Assembly this year I began to look for people who would get tested and talk about it publicly. When I sat down to discuss this with my minister, Reverend Rebecca Zelensky, she deadpanned, "I'll do it" before I had the chance to asky my question. That was the stepping off point in Terre Haute. I don't think I've had anyone tell me no after she publicly announced that she had been tested. Perhaps we need one group or congregation from within the Disciples Denomination to step up and go first.

Any takers?


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