Jacksonville church partners with city to observe World AIDS Day

e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service

Jacksonville church partners with city to observe World AIDS Day

Nov. 19, 2006    News media contact: Tita Parham* 
tparham@flumc.org    Orlando {0578}

An e-Review Feature
By J.A. Buchholz**

World AIDS Day is Dec. 1. United Methodists are encouraged to celebrate the event on that day or a day of their choosing close to it.
Avondale United Methodist Church is working to make God’s love real in its community by reaching out to those impacted by AIDS.

The church is providing an interfaith World AIDS Day service in its sanctuary Dec. 1 at 7 p.m. in conjunction with the city of Jacksonville. The service will follow a candlelight walk through the neighborhood at 6:30 p.m.

“We are very excited to be hosting the service this year as it first is a testimony to the type of church we seek to be within our neighborhood to fulfill our call to be ‘open hearts, open minds and open doors’ to the community we live in,” said the Rev. Jennifer Stiles-Williams, pastor of the church. “Second, it is also a chance to reach across the denominational and racial boundaries in Jacksonville to be united in this cause to be a source of healing for those in the HIV/AIDS community.”

Susan Wiles, spokesperson for Jacksonville Mayor John Peyton, said the city acknowledges the significant suffering from the AIDS epidemic throughout the city, state, country and world.

“We want to help in this global challenge of AIDS,” Wiles said. “We think it’s important to stop and devote a little bit of time to this critical issue.”

In June 1981 scientists in the United States reported the first evidence of a disease that would become known as acquired immunodeficiency syndrome or AIDS. Twenty-five years later the AIDS epidemic has spread to every corner of the world. Around 40 million people are now living with HIV and more than 25 million have died of AIDS.

World AIDS Day is traditionally observed Dec. 1. United Methodists are encouraged to observe this event on or near that day. This year’s international theme is “Focusing on Accountability,” according to the World AIDS Campaign. It is being promoted with the slogan “Stop AIDS. Keep the Promise.,” relating to the eight United Nations Millennium Goals to “Keep the Promise” to fight the sources of hunger and poverty in our world.

Stiles-Williams said she is excited the church is playing a local role in a worldwide crisis.

“It is an amazing service that combines a time of memorial and remembering those who have been lost to HIV/AIDS and then concludes with a time of hope as we hear testimonies from those living with HIV/ADS,” she said.

Avery Blake Garner, missions chairman for Avondale United Methodist Church, said the service will have some new elements this year, including special musical and reading selections and music by First Coast Chorus and the church’s chancel choir and praise team.

Garner is a past chairman of the Jacksonville World AIDS Week Committee and advocated for the committee to consider the church as host site for this year’s event. He said the church’s musical director has developed a special arrangement of music from the popular New York City Broadway play “Rent” and later movie rendition as the closing anthem for the service.

“Avondale United Methodist Church introduced the special communion service to the agenda, which is something new to the service as a whole,” Garner said. “People from all walks will be welcomed into our sanctuary to receive the elements as a symbol of our love and openness to the community, particularly those living with HIV/AIDS. This is in keeping with our tradition of having open communion where all are welcome.”

Stiles-Williams said the church in America has been silent about HIV/AIDS for too long because it was associated with the gay community.

“That was wrong on our part because what affects one affects all,” she said. “Now I am pleased that churches are stepping up to do their part. I hope, however, we will not forget that while it is a world pandemic, there are people in your neighborhood, in your community and in your churches who are silently struggling with this — it's not just those halfway across the world”

She added: “They are our brothers and sisters in Africa, yes, but they are also our brothers and sisters right here in our city, who need our help and who we are called to stand side by side with in hope and action.”

Garner said the church is called to be the body of Christ for others.

“If we are to truly live up to our calling to provide ‘open hearts, open minds and open doors’ then we must treat the words as more than a cute phrase for commercials and bumper stickers,” he said. “We must live and breathe the idea.”

“People living with HIV/AIDS, particularly gays and minorities, have been demonized and stigmatized by society for the 25-year history of the disease,” Garner added. “As children of God, followers of Christ and students of Wesley our voices cannot stay silenced in the face of such evil.”

Garner said there is a saying that when it comes to AIDS “we must touch with love that which we once touched with fear.”

“The human touch, its voice, its physical presence is the embodiment of the Living God, grace manifest,” he said. “If we are not in the presence of those who suffer illness or scorn or hate, then how can we say we've shared grace? How can we meet Christ’s challenge to love? We simply must be present … until there is a cure.”

One way United Methodists are responding to the crisis is through the United Methodist Global AIDS Fund. Heeding the biblical commands to “care for the widow and the orphan” and “visit the sick,” delegates to the 2004 General Conference established The United Methodist Church Global AIDS Fund and a goal of raising at least $8 million by 2008. The funds support education, prevention, care and treatment programs for people living with HIV/AIDS.

About one million people in the United States are infected, with more added to that number each day. The Global AIDS Fund plan specifies that 25 percent of what each annual conference raises should be used in that conference for AIDS work, either locally or in global projects.

The General Board of Church and Society recommends that voluntary offerings be given to “Global HIV/AIDS Program Development” (UMCOR Advance #982345).

Additional information about the global HIV/AIDS epidemic and the United Methodist response is available at http://www.umc.org and the General Board of Church and Society’s Web site, http://www.umc-gbcs.org/. Questions can be directed to Linda Bales at lbales@umc-gbcs.org or 202-488-5649.

More information about the worldwide response to AIDS, administered through UNAIDS (Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS), can be found at http://www.unaids.org.


This article relates to Church and Society.

*Parham is managing editor of e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service.
**Buchholz is a staff writer for e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service.

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