From the Worldwide Faith News archives

National Episcopal AIDS Coalition

Date 18 Apr 2000 15:39:56


AIDS conference says church faces challenge of complacency

by Dennis Delman

     (ENS) Approximately 200 members of the National
Episcopal AIDS Coalition, (NEAC) meeting in San Francisco
March 23-25, were reminded that, although support for
ministries and groups fighting the disease and its effects is
declining, "the Church still has AIDS." Three guest speakers
each warned of complacency in the church caused by what
the Rev. William Frampton, NEAC co-chair, described as the
feeling that the AIDS epidemic is over.

     In three days of workshops, presenters emphasized
repeatedly the growing global HIV/AIDS pandemic in
which the mode of transmission, according to Frederick
Lyagoba, a Ugandan now at the University of Washington,
"is either sexual (mostly heterosexual), from mother to child,
or by blood transfusion."

     AIDS-related deaths, at 2.3 million worldwide in 1998,
have replaced tuberculosis as the leading cause of death,
according to the World Health Organization. Data from the
U.S. Centers for Disease Control indicate a 22-percent jump
in new AIDS cases among Americans age 50 or older. Yet,
according to Frampton, philanthropic support of AIDS-related
causes is declining, and in the Episcopal Church some diocesan
HIV commissions and parish ministries no longer exist.

Pamela Chinnis honored

     Invited to help present awards at NEAC's closing luncheon,
Pamela Chinnis, president of the House of Deputies, was caught
by surprise when guest speaker Jesse Milan, director of the
National Prevention Information Network and former NEAC
president, called her to the podium to honor her own active AIDS
work and participation in NEAC.

     After prolonged applause, Chinnis, clearly touched at being
 honored, said that among the most moving experiences of her
nine-year presidency was seeing the entire AIDS quilt, with then-
Presiding Bishop Edmond Browning, in Washington D.C., where
it stretched from the Capitol to the Washington Monument. "To
see the number of people we lost and how talented they were,
and so very young, is something I will remember and treasure,"
she said, "even though it was a very sad moment."

     Chinnis recalled preaching to a gathering of Integrity, the
gay and lesbian organization in the Episcopal Church, in San
Diego, and disclosing that her son is gay. Referring to a journalist's
request that she not preside over any legislation in Denver "having
to do with sexuality issues, because I'm too biased," Chinnis
responded, "I suppose if I had cancer, he would suggest that
I not preside over any issues having to do with health."

     To cheers and applause, Chinnis said, "I do not intend to
recuse myself from presiding," and "I want to assure you, until
I go out of office--and even long after--I will be an ardent
supporter of AIDS ministry, and of people who are homosexual,
because I believe that's what God wants all of us to do."
As she concluded, Frampton announced that NEAC had made
a contribution to the Presiding Bishop's Fund for World Relief to
honor Chinnis' support of NEAC.

     Milan then paid tribute to Sandra Thurman, director of the
White House Office of National AIDS Policy, recalling that
Thurman was told when she was appointed that she would have
to resign from "everything and anything that smelled like a
conflict of interest." He said Thurman replied that she would not
resign from the NEAC board, saying it was her ministry and there
was no conflict of interest. Milan also related how Thurman
brokered $100 million in federal funds for HIV/AIDS work in
Africa, "our largest commitment ever."

NEAC a family reunion

     Milan, an attorney who has lived with HIV for 18 years,
said of the NEAC conference, "This party is the best family
reunion I go to other than my own." He added that, for all t
he closeness, however, the NEAC neighborhood has changed.

     First, there are fewer diocesan HIV commissions than three
 years ago, and while there are new, energized people fight
ing the epidemic, many parish ministries have closed down. "One
member of the NEAC neighborhood is completely gone," he said,
 noting that the AIDS National Interfaith Network closed in
December, the result of "complacency and lack of funding (that)
plague all of us.

     "Who didn't come?" asked Milan, "Who's dead? Who's been
born?" Responding to the last question, about half of the people
in the room indicated they were at a NEAC conference for the
first time. "NEAC's the future," said Milan, "This reunion is
helping us recharge ourselves." Milan also said that the Union
of Black Episcopalians is now re-energized around AIDS.

Who's dead?

     Milan paid tribute to Ken Williams, a project officer at the
Centers for Disease Control, who had died of cancer the preceding
Saturday. Williams identified the loophole in federal law that allowed
churches to get CDC funds because they are not-for-profit
organizations. "Because of his leadership," recalled Milan, "he found
a way to fund NEAC and NEAC-related ministries across the

     Who else was absent? "About 33 million people: 22 million
of them in sub-Saharan Africa," Milan answered, reminding
his audience "these are not our distant cousins, these are our
brothers and sisters." Also absent are "10 million orphans of
people who died." Milan recounted a visit to a Soweto orphanage:
"Twenty by twenty feet with a tent roof and a cement floor."
Permanently tacked to the door was a phone number: "Not the
phone number of the pediatrician. It was the number of the
funeral director."

     Gwen Hall, founder of Sojourner Truth Unity Fellowship
Church in Seattle, said in her keynote presentation that the Unity
 movement was the direct result of the impact of HIV/AIDS--and
corresponding silence--in the African-American communities. She
said that there is a tendency in America to make black people
invisible, and she asked pointedly if "everyone here would
want to see us survive.

     "Why," she asked, "are the numbers for gay white males going
 down (while) our numbers come up?" Pressing her point, Hall
said HIV/AIDS is the number one killer of African-Americans
between the ages of 25 and 44. "It has replaced the bullet.

     "Racism is the unspoken word," said Hall, and until it is
addressed, "we will not solve our problems." Observing her
mostly white audience, Hall asked, "Do you see us as children of
God, just as you see yourselves?"

     No church in America has avoided the impact of HIV/AIDS.
"We need to remove the stigma," Hall stated, "the hurt and pain
exacerbated by the secret: the so-called 'shame.'  There
 is no shame in getting the disease; there is a shame in treating
those people as less than children of God." "If you want
to see me survive," she said, "I want you to feel it down to your
core…feel at your core: this is a person of God who bears
saving; bears loving."

Sense of community

     Christian de la Huerte, founder of Q Spirit, which he
described as "an international network of gays and lesbians
and spirituality," and author of Coming Out Spiritually, told a
luncheon audience that a sense of community was the most
important connection between spirituality and health and

     To emphasize the connection between spirituality and the
homosexual community, de la Huerte recounted his experience
at a global summit of the United Religions Initiative two years ago.
Aware of its purpose to bring religions and spiritual movements
together to work for world peace, he was even more aware
that neither sexuality nor homosexuality had been mentioned
(they had been issues at pre-summit regional meetings).

     Identifying himself as "an unofficial ambassador from a tribe
of people who belong to every culture in the world," de la
Huerte told the summit that gays and lesbians had been universally
repudiated, excluded, condemned, excommunicated and "even
 eliminated by some of the religions of the world."

     Reading from his written statement to the summit, de la
Huerte said, the tragic irony was "that before patriarchal times
…before we got the mistaken idea there was only one name
for the creator…one way to worship the divine…gays and
sexually ambiguous people were often spiritual leaders: the
shamans, healers and visionaries;" and that he was at the
summit to reclaim "our natural, sacred…God-given role
of spiritual leadership."

     Receiving what he described as "a most heartfelt" standing
ovation, de la Huerte said he left the meeting with a feeling of
hope, and that was what he wanted to share with NEAC.
"What we're doing," he said, "is taking a stand on fundamental,
universal human issues: issues of love, inclusion, fairness,
justice and family."

NEAC awards

     NEAC "stars" for outstanding service were presented to
Sue Kuebler of Erie, in the Diocese of Northwest
Pennsylvania; Mary Alice Burse of the Diocese of
Chicago, and St. George's parish of Brooklyn, New
York, in the Diocese of Long Island.

     Kuebler began her HIV/AIDS work in 1989, does
25 educational presentations each year and was instrumental
in making St. Paul's in Erie the first cathedral in the Episcopal
Church to sponsor the Names Project. Burse created "Mothers
to Sons" and "Teens for a Better Future," programs that focus
on education and intervention. Her ministry is "simply to
inspire survival by providing spiritual insight that gives my
clients hope to live another day."

     Mavis Thompson Blaze and Cynthia Wilson accepted the
NEAC award for St. George's parish in Brooklyn. They
were joined by former NEAC president, the Rev. Richard
Younge, who was the first curate at St. George's. Women in
the parish, who became aware of the AIDS crisis in Brooklyn,
developed education programs to bring that awareness home
to their congregation. The parish began networking with
public agencies and presented several public seminars in Brooklyn.

--Dennis Delman is editor of Pacific Church News, the
newspaper of the Diocese of California.

For more information contact:
Episcopal News Service
Kathryn McCormick

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