National Lutheran News

‘ We all are infected or affected’ by HIV

Early in the 1980s, doctors started to see incidents of a disease that was perplexing, but didn’t yet have a name. At some point in 1982, medical journals began referring to this disease as Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (AIDS).

Because contracting the disease was a death sentence, and because it was primarily localized in a couple of communities, a social stigma arose around people with AIDS. While much more is known about the disease today, and people are living much longer due to anti-retro virals (ARVs), for much of society, including the church, the social stigma remains to a large degree, according to Robert Schrader, a board member with Lutheran AIDS Network (LANET), a network of Lutherans concerned about people who are infected or affected by AIDS.

Addressing that stigmatization is exactly why LANET is hosting its biennial conference, Faith in Action, at Central Lutheran Church (ELCA), Minneapolis, April 11-12. LANET conferences are opportunities to strategize about how to resource a church that doesn’t like to talk about sex, let alone sexuality, Schrader says.

Robert Schrader

Ministry with people living with AIDS

Schrader himself is a person living with AIDS. His own story tells a story. “I was born and raised a Lutheran in small-town Nebraska,” Schrader explained. “Like many young people, I left the church while in college. And, in the 1980s, I swore I would never set foot in a church again.

“But when I became ill, I found a church that welcomed me. There were people who were present in my need.” He goes on, “The medications have kept me alive, but I don’t think I would have survived without my church community.”

Schrader is concerned that, with continued stigmatization and a wariness to address any issue having to do with sex (not necessarily sexuality, Schrader reminds), the church will not address the issues that would allow it to be a house of hospitality for people living with AIDS.

He compares AIDS with cancer. Recognizing that in some churches there is hesitancy to share any vulnerable information, he acknowledges that even talking about cancer can be unwelcome. But, imagine, he says, even in vibrant churches, one couldn’t share about the difficulties they were experiencing with chemotherapy because of fear of what preconceived notions about the disease the listener might harbor.

People living with AIDS are often very alone. The members of LANET want to see that changed. At the 2011 conference, the organization is releasing a congregational resource titled “Brokenness to Wholeness The Silver Edition: HIV and AIDS Curriculum for Older Adults,” because the section of the population experiencing the fastest increase in AIDS infection is people over 50. Almost 17 percent of the newly reported cases are now in that age group, making the new resource an important congregational tool.

For more information, go to http://lutheranaids.net/conference2011. Tickets for the April 11 banquet are available to people not able to attend the conference. “And, of course, seminarians are encouraged to attend in order to hear about pastoral ministry not always emphasized at seminary,” Schrader said.

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