October 27, 2013: Our HIV/AIDS Ministry

Posted on : Oct 24th, 2013 | By | Category: This Sunday's Service

Some among us are not old enough to remember the devastation and death of the AIDS health crisis; others among us don’t want to remember it.

I remember reading a piece on the peculiarities of the AIDS health crisis.  It said, “While the gay male community was being decimated, the rest of America just kind of went on with life as normal. This health crisis defined our lives for a decade, yet most of ‘straight’ America didn’t have a clue what we were going through.”

We lost three quarters of a generation of gay men in just one decade.  Hundreds of thousands of gay men died.  It was the worst epidemic to ever befall any community in the history of the United States of America.  Young, vibrant, formerly virile and healthy young men suddenly became weakened, then disabled and finally emaciated before dying.  Wonderful men full of life and love, and rich life-stories, were caught off guard and destroyed by a previously unknown virus: the Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV).

It didn’t matter if you were young or old, rich or poor, short or tall, a “pretty boy” or a gym boy.  The virus spread among the gay community life a wild fire, totally out of control.

At first everyone was terrified.  No one knew what caused the illnesses that destroyed the human body or how they were transmitted.  There was no “test” to see if you were infected.  And there were no drugs available to “cure or control” the disease.  Everyone was terrified. In the beginning of the pandemic, everyone was afraid they would be the next person to “get it.”  Near the height of the “death cycle” just about every gay man was sure they were going to die – because everyone around them was dying.

In the midst of this epidemic, our church was one of the few churches that offered spiritual care and compassion to persons with HIV/AIDS.  We had so many people getting sick that I began our Spiritual Support Group for persons with AIDS.  As more and more people became ill and died, I couldn’t begin to meet the needs of the number of people who were coming to us.  In 1988 I met with the Rev. Dave Meekof, our Presbytery Executive and said, “I can’t do this alone.”  Dave found some denominational funding for us to Call a half-time Associate Pastor.  After a difficult search process, Rev. Lisa Bove was chosen.  Shortly thereafter it was became obvious that we needed a full time Associate and additional money was found to Call Lisa full time.

In total, Lisa, Peg (Beissert) and I officiated at over 200 funerals.  In the official “Church Register” there are five pages listing the names of those who died only from AIDS.

Our entire ministry for over a decade was defined by AIDS.  We provided spiritual care for those who were ill and for the “worried well.”  In May of 1996 relief finally came.  A series of new antiviral medications were developed, which when used together, greatly limited the ability of the virus to replicate.  Most doctors prescribed a mixture of three medications.  The mixture quickly was called “the AIDS cocktail.”  These drugs and future generations of them have finally made HIV a controllable disease.

In looking back, it doesn’t seem possible that we could have ever lived through this epidemic.  And yet we did.  And we did it with unbelievable love and care with those who were dying and with those who were living.  This Sunday Lisa and I will share some of the “tender moments” of life and faith that we experienced in our HIV/AIDS ministry.




~ This Sunday’s Scripture ~

Matthew 11: 28-30

Jesus said, “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.  Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.  For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”

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