XVI International AIDS Conference 2006 – ELCIC Delegates\’ Reflections

Tuesday, August 22 – Rev. Brian Rude

Posted by elcic2 on August 22, 2006

The International AIDS Conference has ended, but the discussion and debate go on, and no doubt will for months and years to come. Yesterday (Monday) I joined 20 Anglicans, including partners from South Africa, Kenya, Hong Kong, the Philippines (I represented El Salvador), to share our experiences, impressions, learnings and evaluations of the ecumencial pre-conference and the IAC itself. It was a most enlightening, productive–and often entertaining–exchange. These partners also reflected on their speaking invitations to local Anglican congregations, an opportunity which I don’t believe was pursued by the ELCIC with our 60-plus global partners here in Toronto for these events.

A “faith-based” response to AIDS certainly is not a matter of consensus. Many AIDS activists speaking throughout the conference made subtle and not-so-subtle references to the ways in which faith-based groups had slowed or blocked the fight against AIDS. It will be a challenge to rebuild trust and cooperation, so crucial in this inter-sectoral battle against AIDS. Some in the ELCA even feel that Bishop Hanson doesn’t have the legitimacy or credibility to speak to an issue such as HIV / AIDS, considering the ELCA’s track record and stance on sexual diversity and human rights.

On Wednesday evening, I went to our residence lounge for the group reflection, and was joined by two evangelical women from the USA. They were determined to conquer AIDS by bringing the entire world to the Lord, one heart at a time–with a little help from their President Bush’s AIDS money and programs (PEPFAR), which had also been subjected to much criticism throughout the conference. Oh me of little faith, but . . . would that the world might survive so long. Not a fan of cell-phones, I was nevertheless thankful for a call received by one of them which interrupted our conversation that was going nowhere.

Prevention was a major theme of this conference, alongside care and treatment. Much of the debate was around the effectiveness of the much-touted “ABC” prevention method. Others offered their own expanded acronyms. Here are some of the objectives we seek to implement through Quetzalcoatl in El Salvador, working primarily with at-risk-youth in prisons and on the streets:

  • A — Abstinence — Avoid exchange of potentially-infected bodily fluids (semen, vaginal fluids, blood and mother’s milk), including safer sex
  • B — Be faithful, in a mutually-faithful relationship — Build self-esteem
  • C — Condoms, carefully used — Community-based prevention programs and support systems
  • D — Defend the dignity and the human rights (health, education, labour, etc.) especially of those most vulnerable to HIV infection
  • E — Enable open communication and respect at every level, especially with one’s sexual partner(s)
  • F — Fight stigma and discrimination
  • G — Give voice to those silenced
  • H — Hear what they are saying — Harm-reduction programs
  • I — Implement / Increase / Improve awareness and adequate health programs
  • J — Join forces in partnerships and networks
  • K — Keep our promises, and hold others, including governments, to theirs
  • L — Love our neighbours

This might be an exhausting list but, even so, it’s not exhaustive. AIDS is so much more than a virus and a condom.

While the Conference Centre was the brains of this massive IAC, the Global Village was clearly the heart. Open to the public, it was an extensive and diverse offering by those who didn’t have an academic study to present in a sterile conference hall (the IAC offered 9,979 of these, with more than 40,000 panelists). The setting provided many spaces for the youth, the women, the sex-trade workers, the transsexuals, the faith-based groups, the non-governmental organizations . . . to display their educational materials, their artwork, their photos, their dance, their theatre . . . This was done with much passion and sincerity and creativity. This was people telling their own stories, rather than having their lives and cultures presented as data and graphs in a power-point presentation by some academic. Time spent in these settings flew by, and left me feeling very enriched and motivated to face the challenges.

Two years from now, this IAC will be held in Mexico City. The Latinos/as should feel more included. However, the official hosts–men–welcomed only the “amigos”, and not the “amigas”, in their speeches, a “faux pas” (pardon my Spanish) which wouldn’t go over well in Central America, and didn’t go over well with the Honduran and Guatemalan “amigas” with whom I was sitting, especially after just hearing Stephen Lewis’ stirring call for the empowerment of women and the increase in the number of women in leadership roles.

I attended some youth events, including their final evaluation, and was impressed by the seriousness with which they face the challenges presented to them. Youth participation, which doubled to 1,000 from Bangkok in 2004, is to double again in Mexico. Perhaps we could charter busloads of youth from El Salvador (and Canada?), or bring in a few of our gang-boys from the surrounding streets. Visas shouldn’t be so much of a hurdle for young Salvadorans heading to Mexico in 2008.

I would like to thank the ELCIC for giving me the opportunity to attend both the Ecumenical Pre-Conference and the IAC. Both have impacted me greatly and, by means of this blog and other information channels, hopefully some of you readers as well, and our church as a whole. I await your responses, either via this same blog-site, or personally. As we’ve been reminded consistently over these past two weeks, it is time to “Keep the Promise” and it is “Time to Deliver”.

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Saturday, August 19 – Rev. Bob Shantz

Posted by elcic2 on August 19, 2006

I’m writing this on Saturday morning, August 19th, the day after the closing of the International Aids Conference. I had planned to write something each day of the conference but found that the long and exhausting days and evenings left little time and energy to write. But I did take notes along the way and it is from these that I have written what follows.   The AIDS epidemic has not hit mainstream Canadian culture in the devastating way it has in other countries – except in some marginalized Canadian communities such as First Nations People, the gay community and those using needles to meet their drug addiction. For these people the devastating death toll is far too high. But for those of us not so affected, I have listed some facts and numbers here to give some sense of the immense effect of this illness. 

  • 25 million have died of HIV/AIDS since 1981 
  • Every day 6000 children are orphaned – 1/3 under five years of age 
  • There are today 40.3 million living with HIV – double that in 1995 
  • 3.1 million died of AIDS is 2005 and 4.9 million became infected 
  • 500,000 children died of AIDS in 2005 and 700,000 were newly infected with HIV 
  • More than 95% of all living with HIV are in the developing world and 95% of all AIDS deaths happened in the developing world.  
  • Only one in 10 HIV positive people in Africa and one in seven in Asia have access to antiretroviral treatment. In the northern developed world, most people have access to this effective treatment. 
  • Only one in 10 people living with HIV has been tested and actually know if he or she is positive.  This information was compiled by the Ecumenical Advocacy Alliance representing more than 95 churches and church-related agencies. It is a rich and reliable resource for information, education and advocacy. Its address: www.e-alliance.ch  

In response to the pain, suffering and threat of this disease Bishop Mark Hanson of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America and President of the Lutheran World Federation attended both the pre-conference ecumenical/interfaith gathering and the International AIDS Conference. He wanted to be there as a model of a religious leader’s appropriate response to the epidemic.   There were six main points he made in his presentations.

  1. Churches and the world’s religions must confess their complicity in the advance of AIDS by stigmatizing those with the disease because of its genesis in sexual activity. Those stigmatized hide in shame and denial, do not seek prevention or treatment and the disease continues to be spread.  
  2. Religious leaders need to make public statements of commitment to end the stigma we have helped create and to make a promise, to which they will be held accountable, to increase both care for the suffering and promotion of prevention of the spread of the disease through education and active encouragement of safe sex, needle exchange, etc.  
  3. Religious leaders must demonstrate/model for other leaders so that local pastors find the support they need in their local communities to speak out against stigmatization and to promote safe sex. 
  4. Religious leaders need to be clear about morals and sexual behaviour regarding AIDS. Moral behaviour does not prevent AIDS. (For example a faithful woman can be infected by her husband. A child can be born with the disease.) Likewise immoral behaviour does not cause AIDS – unsafe sexual activity and other behaviour which transmits infected blood does. Religious leaders need to lead the way in encouraging safe practice. 
  5. Religious leaders need to see the limitations of the ABC prevention strategy. ABC stands for: Abstinence – the limitation here being that it is unrealistic to expect millions upon millions of people to abstain from sex; that abstinence is not possible for women in cultures where men dominate and can demand unprotected sex from their wives; Being faithful to one – this becomes quite meaningless to a faithful woman who is married to man who is not faithful to her; Condoms – again while condoms are extremely effective in preventing transmition of the infection, they do not help a woman whose partner refuses to wear it (as happens in many cultures).This ABC strategy simply does not take into account the lived reality of most people – and certainly not of millions of women. It has not been effective – as indicated by the number of new infections each year.
  6. Religious leaders must see anew the capacity their religious communities have for   providing an effective and compassionate response to AIDS with their local parishes, hospitals and clinics; with their presence with chaplaincy in the military, health care and prisons; with their presence in people’s lives at times of personal change such as birth, marriage, death when education and counseling can be provided to individuals and the gathered community.   

Some of the themes the speakers emphasized in the final session of the conference:
There is now effective treatment for those living with HIV. But in most countries hit hardest by the epidemic poverty, poor nutrition and cultural stigma prevent the treatment from being used. Also, very importantly, women around the world do not have the social power to be more in control of their sex lives and the economy needed to better support their families. If the HIV/AIDS epidemic is to be checked, it is women who will need more power in their personal lives and in the designing of new and effective prevention and treatment strategies.

The economies of the world of both government and private industry must respond much more generously to this enormous challenge. The world’s religions must not get in the way of effective prevention with ethical teachings that do not allow for safe sex. Without these changes more and more people will continue to die and whole communities will continue to be devastated by the loss of their people. 

I feel very privileged to have served as a chaplain at this conference. To say that I learned much is, indeed, an understatement. But what truly overwhelmed me was attending an event with 25,000 to 30,000 other delegates and volunteers. Some say that the HIV/AIDS response has become an over-bloated industry in itself. There is some truth in this given the world-wide response to the epidemic. But it is also true that the very best of human endeavour is at work in this response. Progress is being made in research; governments and industry are responding to pressure to change from AIDS activists and much, much compassionate care is being given in local communities everywhere. All these people were represented at this conference. I was honoured to be with them.  
One late afternoon I sat in a hallway “café” resting with a cup of coffee. While sitting there I noted that a nearby session, that had attracted several thousand delegates, had just ended. They all had to walk past my little table to move on to the next part of their day. I wrote what followed as they streamed by. All these – so, so many people – searching for a cure, an effective response, a way to save lives, hopes, dreams – struggling with the virus that has made its home in the human family 

Walking alone and together, silent and conversing, lost in thought, committed, eager, tired – following the same path They keep coming and coming. So many. Working around the world.  For healing. Good people. Each contributing a little something.   So many. They keep coming. The Spirit in all of them. Each with a talent, a training, a specialty. Each in his or her own world. All together in one world.  They keep coming. So many. The human family responds. May we find peace in the power – and powerlessness – of love. Amen.

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Friday, August 18 – Rev. Brian Rude

Posted by elcic2 on August 19, 2006

Taking to the Streets

Yesterday afternoon (Thursday), just as our ELCIC youth were walking the streets, and checking out the abodes of the homeless under the overpasses of Winnipeg, I was doing the same in the streets and under the overpasses of Toronto.I had joined an IAC Engagement Tour with 10 other delegates (from Guyana, Germany, Haiti,Canada . . . ), hosted by Youth Link Inner City ).While we learned much, hearing from multiple staff explaining their diverse programs, seeing their message-rich drop-in centre, being led on a guided walking tour of much of their territory, and seeing a few of their clients, we didn’t have the opportunity to hear the life-stories from the clients themselves. That was a decision made by the staff, to protect the privacy of their clients. We were led by a peer-counsellor, who told me some of his story, which began in Calgary some 20 years ago. (If you ever visit us in El Salvador, be assured you’ll hear the “homeboys'” stories live . . . and these Salvadorans love having their photos taken–no privacy issues with visitors to their streets or cells, in spite of the threat from the rival gang.) While the furniture and walls of the cardboard rooms we visited are a bit make-shift, the art is compelling, accompanied by a spray-painted reminder (from Mom?): “This is your home. Protect it.” It was difficult for our Guyanese brother to grasp why there should be homeless youth in a country as wealthy and democratic as Canada. Hmmm. He does have a poignant point for us to ponder. Once 1,200 ELCIC youth get on our PM’s case, perhaps we’ll have a less humiliating answer to offer him!

On Wednesday afternoon, I joined an IAC-linked street protest, demanding continued federal funding for “InSite”, Vancouver’s safe-injection site in the downtown east side, where our ELCIC street priest Brian Heinrich lives his–our ELCIC–ministry of accompaniment. We blocked numerous intersections along Yonge Street with banners, and distributed informational leaflets, for 2 minutes. No buses were burned, not even any tires. No tear-gas, no bullets. No voices were raised. I believe the honking horns were mostly supportive. The police offered security, not harrassment. Perhaps Canadian prime ministers have better hearing than Salvadoran presidents.

Whenever I wander the streets and attend the parties, or even the churches, of Toronto for a week or two, I leave feeling like I’ve visited the entire world. Imagine my heightened sense of that after this past week of IAC. But I did sense a certain gap. Even on the UN’s AIDS map, there was a region of countries left in grey–no AIDS, or just no data? And these countries–Saudi Arabia and neighbours–didn’t seem to be represented at this event. But when I went to the Thursday night vigil (well, only one hour, not all night), across from Eaton Centre, I found myself in a little huddle of terrorists–oops, I mean tourists . . . it’s so hard to distinguish these days–from Saudi Arabia. These were 3 brothers, apparently, who weren’t in Toronto for the IAC. The oldest was in his second year of Medicine, where he had learned the basics about HIV / AIDS, but didn’t expect to encounter it much. I do hope he’s right. He was more interested in my views about them, their nationality and terrorism in general, about which I felt eminently qualified to offer an opinion, since I work and walk with El Salvador’s “terrorists” almost every day, and against Washington-based terrorisms.

I got a pleasant surprise at one session on diverse prison realities. Due to a media interview and a chance encounter, I arrived almost too late to bother–just in time to hear the introduction to the fifth and last speaker on the panel. It was a name I recognized, but didn’t–yet, on the other hand, did–expect to hear in such a setting (plushest auditorium of the Conference Centre, no bars and minimal security). I had worked with Jim Motherall and his holistic prison health program for a week at the Stony Mountain Institute just north of Winnipeg. That was four years ago–just as he was completing his 32-year sentence. It was a delight for both of us to connect and catch up–after the standing ovation and a swarm of appreciative members of the large audience lined up to meet and thank him. If anyone can help him publish his book, he’d be most grateful, and Canadians would be most enriched.

(see http://www.aids2006.org/PAG/PSession.aspx?SessionID=143 and http://www.lulu.com/outlaw ).

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Friday, August 18 – Rev. Brian Rude

Posted by elcic2 on August 18, 2006

The Ecumenical Advocacy Alliance led the ecumenical pre-assembly. Here is their website, to enable you to follow the ecumenical involvement over the past week more fully: 


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Wednesday, August 16 – Rev. Brian Rude

Posted by elcic2 on August 18, 2006

Hello! Is anybody home? I keep hoping for some feedback, some response to all that we’re experiencing here at this IAC. Or did everybody go to Nunavut?

A Tale of Two Bills

Only a pandemic the magnitude of AIDS could draw this many people together from so many countries and so many economic levels and so many sectors. It is tremendous that even a former US president and the richest couple in the world have joined forces with the widows and the orphans.I still tend to put more faith in the millions of widows’ mites than in Gates’ billions (he just donated another 0.7% of his foundation to the cause). The widows are less preoccupied about market shares and tax deductions and CNN exposure (pardon my cynicism).

Word on the street here is that many from vulnerable, marginalized groups, while grateful for all the support from the Gates’, feel stepped on by their insensitivity at times. Perhaps that’s natural, not having lived on the streets, or been members of vulnerable groups, themselves. No amount of visiting can fully convert the comfortable. I’ve heard no negative reactions to Bill Clinton’s daring pronouncements, and have none myself (if you can believe that!).

Nor do I have anything but admiration for our Lutheran spokespersons, namely Rev. Dr. Gunnar Stalsett (Norway / Lutheran World Federation) and Bishop Mark Hanson USA, LWF).Our Lutheran theology is second to none in enabling us to address this controversial, polarizing issue, and these two representatives are so articulate in expressing that, and so convincing in living it out in their respective leadership roles.

Beyond them, I hear the words of Jesus proclaimed most profoundly and persistently by those who would likely be labelled the non-faith community, the countless AIDS activists empassioned with their conviction that this is all about saving lives. They remind the Pharisee–oops, I mean “faith-based”–community that laws were made for humankind, not humankind for the law. Perhaps they don’t realize they’re proclaiming Jesus’ liberating Gospel message, but I’m sure the millions of lives they save attest to their faith.

I’ve been attending mostly sessions about the marginalized sectors of society–street-kids, sex-trade workers, inmates, indigenous peoples, youth ( http://www.dance4life.nl/en_index), males who have sex with males (MSM). I say “about”, because in most cases the marginalized themselves have either had to stay home, or aren’t speaking for themselves. It is often the scholars who are presenting the studies and surveys they’ve done on these people. I guess I prefer being in the prison cells or on the streets myself, getting the stories (and the laughs and the hugs, not just the data) first-hand, but life is too short to visit all the streets of the world. I have yet to find a session presented by someone working with gang-youth. Surely somebody among these 25,000 must be sharing our Quetzalcoatl experiences.

The Anglicans hosted another wonderful interfaith event last night at St. James Cathedral (well, token interfaith, at least–I don’t know how many Hindus have German surnames, and I didn’t see any of saffron-robed friends there, who surround me by the 1,000’s in our multi-mirrored residence restroom). I’ll post the URL for the amazing altarpiece from Africa, doing a tour of North America. While the majestic organ music was awesome, I would have preferred a pulsing African drumbeat as audio backdrop to this artistic drama, as the successive panels were opened. The Toronto Mendelssohn Choir took me back to my LCBI days with “How Lovely are Thy Dwellings” from Brahm’s Requiem, the congregational singing of “Ask and it Shall be Given Unto You” took me back to CLBI days, and the South African songs which Gondwana (Sweden) brought to Canada in 1984 brought me back to my early days of parish ministry–mostly before I knew anything about AIDS. Our faith traditions carry us on into new challenges.

I gave one Anglican usher a light lesson in sensitivity to the “marginalized” (me). Approaching the cathedral, I bumped into our Argentinian Lutheran AIDS pastor, smartly attired in clerical collar and suit, strutting towards the cathedral. “Asi te tratan mejor?” I joked. “Si, mucho mejor”, he replied, grinning. As we entered the cathedral, we realized it was standing-room only. But not for long. A Scottish-accented usher walked directly up to my clergy-friend, who, grinning back at me over his shoulder, was readily led to a seat near the Holy of Holies. I was left standing in my new red “Stop AIDS–Keep the Promise!” t-shirt. When the usher came by again, I jokingly thanked him for having helped me to prove my point, then explained what I meant. On the way out after the service, I asked my Argentinian friend where I could get one of those useful shirts. I think saffron might be my colour.

My lesson came back to me, however. Absorbed in the Brahm’s work, I was somewhat annoyed by the noisy chit-chat behind me, so glanced back, only to see two street-ladies whom I felt very sorry to be shushing.

Well, I could go on about my Vietnamese friend, my Mozambiquan friend, having a midnight pizza with Bonaventure, my Burundian room-mate (who got his luggage back, btw), or . . Maybe tomorrow.

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Tuesday, August 15 – Rev. Brian Rude

Posted by elcic2 on August 16, 2006

If you’d like to check out more details of this IAC event, go to http://www.aids2006.org/

There is so much happening here, it is hard to take in more than a small fraction. It all seems rather overwhelming.

In spite of the numbers of participants swarming around a sprawling site, it is surprising how often I bump into my Latin American, and especially Salvadoran, colleagues, getting a chance to catch up with how we’re doing.

Latin Americans do like to speak for themselves, and felt silenced during the ecumenical pre-conference. I believe they had good reason. Only one of the 50 planners and coordinators listed was Latin American–a Jesuit from Mexico. I don’t believe any of the 30 speakers and moderators in the plenary sessions was Latin American. Only one of the workshops (offered twice) was led by a Latin American–a Honduran woman, who apparently didn’t offer opportunity for participants to respond. Translation was available only in the main venue, limiting the workshop options to 1 / 7 those of English-speaking participants. The Latin Americans did gather to prepare a written expression of this frustration, which was distributed to all the participants.

Then last night, at the opening festivities in Roger’s Centre (previously the Sky Dome), Richard Gere welcomed Africa, Europe and Asia to the XVI International AIDS Conference . . . but neglected to welcome Latin America (and Australia)!

Having attended numerous HIV / AIDS events around Latin America, and feeling isolated from Africa and Asia myself, living in Latin America, I was most grateful for the breadth and depth of content from these two continents, but I do empathize with my Latino/a brothers and sisters.

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Monday, August 14 – Rev. Brian Rude

Posted by elcic2 on August 15, 2006

Saffron Sunrise 

As I peered into the mirror of my residence washroom yesterday morning, razor in hand, I had the surreal sensation of being surrounded by saffron.  Upon focusing more closely, I realized that indeed I was–two robed monks on either side, and five in a row facing the mirror to my back.  I hadn’t realized that Buddhist monks shave in chorus–much less fully-robed.  Unable to identify this colour in my mental liturgical calendar, I realized that we had begun the Inter-Faith day of our Pre-Conference assembly.  So I proceeded to remove the stubble with my brothers in the faith from Laos, Cambodia, Myanmar, Vietnam and
 My Burundian room-mate, Bonaventure, had moved in at 3:33 a.m., about noon his time.  I gave him a spare razor and shampoo, since all his luggage is still in the care of Air
Canada.  All those phone messages in French must be for him.  

A Tale of Two Stephens  

Stephen H and Stephen L are both Canadian.  Both speak for
Canada.  Both are being spoken and written about in relation to this XVI International AIDS Conference commencing today in
Toronto.  That is where the similarity ends.  One will be remembered for his avoidance, his apathy.  The other will be remembered for his immersion, his passion.  As Slinger rather ungraciously speculated in Thursday’s Toronto Star, Harper’s avoidance can perhaps be traced to fear–fear of alienating voters by being associated with this unsavoury crowd; fear of being infected by all that HIV floating in the air; fear of being seen in public in his full-body condom . . .  On the contrary, Lewis has shed all fear, including any fear of speaking truth to power.  He is in good company.  More than 25,000 fearless global citizens are assembling in
Toronto today.  We Canadians would have welcomed having two Stephens welcome them all to our country.  But one will do–beyond measure.  


I was finally able to indulge my urge to join in the mystery and mystique of Anglican Church of the Holy Trintiy this morning.  Nestled in the bosom of consumerism, Holy Trinity maintains its space in the shadow of looming Eaton’s Centre, in
Toronto’s downtown core.  It is an unlikely setting for gothic architecture and stain-glass windows.  The style of welcome and worship and proclamation  that happens there isn’t so unlikely.  Today’s worship was fully in tune with the reality of
Toronto’s hosting of the International AIDS Conference, less than a half-hour’s walk away, at the MT Convention Centre.  The hymns, songs, prayers . . . all resonated with the same theme, the same passion.  The preacher was John McTavish, who spoke about his life and work with HIV/AIDS, for about 20 years in rural Ontario and Kingston, and also recently on a PWRDF (Anglican Development agency) trip to Kenya.  He gives thanks to God for all the support he receives from his partner, family, church and colleagues.  For at least a decade, he had experienced a yawning gap between his world of AIDS and his world of church.  But in the past ten years, that breach is being bridged.  The priest and presider, Sara Boyles, and her worship assistant, wore rainbow stoles, a biblical image reminding us of God’s keeping the promise not lost on many of the marginalized in our own world.  In the chancel there is a photo-narration display set up, called “Facing AIDS, Facing Reality”.  There in the Holy of Holies are pictured some of my CoCoSI friends from El Salvador, the children of the sexworkers in India, etc. etc.–those who don’t even approach the door of most holy places.  It was an awesome space in which to receive Christ’s body and blood from a sister on my right, and pass it on to a brother on my left, as we encircled the altar in a ring of faith and hope that filled the church and extended to the world outside.  Besides which, many of my friends of the past week make this their worship home, so I felt warmly welcomed and nourished indeed. 
 Worship at the ecumenical pre-conference has also been inspiring.  Much of it revolved around the biblical images of stones–from those used by David against Goliath in his sling-shot; those used by the Pharisees against a woman they condemned as sinful; the Cornerstone on which the Church is built; stones of destruction, stones of construction . . .  Ecumenical and multi-ethnic music and prayers and voices all converged to praise our Creator, Redeemer and Sustainer in a way that bridged all of the gaps which had been exposed in the various debates over theology and praxis in a field which, while controversial, has served to bring God’s people together in a way that perhaps no other has.    The amazing commonalities with brothers and sisters of Buddhist, Hindu, Jewish and Moslem faiths, explored the day before the XVI International AIDS Conference, inspire us all to continue on this journey together.  

“Full Serve” 

Attending this IAC prevents me from being at our ELCIC’s Youth Gathering, for the first time since the 1970’s.  Perhaps no ELCIC youth are present at this event.  But you 1,200 youth making a pilgrimage to Winnipeg this week to celebrate your faith and friendship, can certainly be a part of this fellowship, a part of this fight against HIV/AIDS, in spirit and prayer, solidarity and action.  Please join us across the physical distance. 

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Sunday, August 13 – Rev. Bob Shantz

Posted by elcic2 on August 14, 2006

Sunday, August 13, 2006

The international AIDS 2006 conference begins today, Sunday, August 13th. Yesterday I helped the Rev Terry MacArthur from Geneva set up a multifaith prayer space at the conference. It is a quiet, peaceful room open to all religious people and to those with no religion. Terry and I are Christians but we are designing it with the needs of Muslims, Jews, Hindus and others in mind. The direction of Mecca will be noted so that Muslims can face it as they pray. There are chairs that can be easily removed or rearranged; the table that will be used as an altar for daily Catholic mass can also be moved. A fountain has been placed in the midst of a beautiful arrangement of greenery and flowers to remind us of our baptismal identity and the sacredness of God’s creation. A schedule has been set so that each faith group knows when it has use of the room for its particular service. During the rest of the non-scheduled time people may drop in for private personal time and there will be a chaplain present to talk with them or sit quietly with them, as they wish.

This is being organized and offered by Christians. Providing this room is an act of pastoral care. Working with the challenges presented by HIV/AIDS can be exhausting and overwhelming. And making this room available to all is a beautiful act of hospitality and an acknowledgement that God is larger than any one can imagine. Or to put it another way, that it takes many ways to say the name of God.

On Saturday, while I was waiting in the prayer room for more supplies to arrive with which to decorate the room, a young man from India dropped by to see at what time the Muslim prayers were scheduled. He was a quiet, gentle soul and we began a twenty minute conversation. He was in his early 30’s and a physician who had been working for the past six years with the poorest of the poor of those infected with HIV/AIDS in rural southern India. His parents wondered why he did not take a more prestigious position in a city hospital but he said he gets great satisfaction from the work he does with the poor. He wanted to know all about Canada and in the four days after the conference he wanted to see it all – Niagara Falls to Vancouver! He was very grateful to the Christians who had provided the prayer space. He also told me that he was married to a Christian and his mother dearly loved her daughter-in-law. Such a marriage was a challenge to the social and religious conventions of his community but he said he needed the freedom to follow his heart. When he left I felt that I had been visited by an angel who had brought news of joy and hope.

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Saturday, August 12 – Rev. Bob Shantz

Posted by elcic2 on August 12, 2006

A very major theme of the Ecumenical Christian pre-conference was to challenge our judgmental theology. A speaker reminded us that “the treasure of the church are the poor.” Those who are ill, or otherwise in need, are a gift not a problem. They are reflections of who we all are – there is no hard line between who is, or is not, at the moment, in need. In God’s eyes we are all beloved creations.

If this then is the case, as speaker after speaker and the workshop leaders emphasized, then our judgmental theology that states that some are more acceptable in the eyes of God than others is clearly a misleading notion meant not to carry the good news of the Gospel of love. Rather, judgmental theology serves to protect us by creating those who are within God’s favour or outside of it; within the church or out of it; part of the blessed community or part of the community not worthy of salvation. These divisions require walls of belief which we rely on to protect us from that which is terrifying – such as HIV/AIDS, or others who are in some other way different from us. Our religious leaders need to guide us away from this theology of fear and anger. Each of us must search for the person who has the disease to see not just the illness but to see the child of God who is ill. Each of us must search our own hearts to find the child of God in us, not just that which is either righteous or not.

Another related theme was to be aware of perpetuating the stigma related to those with HIV/AIDS – that they are unclean (as lepers were seen to be), that they had sinned through their life-style, that they area threat to the community. This requires that we educate ourselves about the nature of this illness and simply get the facts, that we begin to speak more candidly and openly about our sexual lives and that we develop a non-judgmental belief system.

There were 500 people present at this conference. Most of them were front-line workers living with and ministering to those with an incurable disease -such a Christian witness of love in action. When asked why they chose to do this difficult work several of the speakers responded to the question, “Why me?” with a simple and most powerful response, “Why not me?” A bishop from Asia asked, “If I do not burn, if you do not burn, how can the shadows become light?”

For those of us in churches in Canada not overwhelmed by the epidemic as many other countries are, we may ask what our loving response needs to be. First we should speak openly about this illness and in so doing invite all those among us who are sick to be free to share their burden with us. Too many in our congregations live in silence with the shame of the HIV/AIDS illness and suffer alone. At the same time we need to advocate for the support of those working on prevention and treatment and support by requiring our religious and civic leaders to work for mobilizing resources to minister to those affected. We need to become aware of the judgmental theology we carry and be sensitive to it when we hear it from others so that we do not perpetuate shame and stigma.

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Friday, August 11 – Rev. Paul Johnson

Posted by elcic2 on August 12, 2006

The LWF gathering came off well. Once everyone finally arrived, we had about sixty people jammed into a room set up to hold about forty. It was great. I welcomed all on behalf of Bishop Schultz, and all their sisters and brothers across the ELCIC, and then introduced Bishop Mark Hanson, President of the LWF. We had time enough for brief introductions all round, women and men, young and old, from around the world, of practically every glorious hue of humanity – from Africa, Asia, Latin America, Europe, and North America. Many shared a little about how they are connected to the fight against HIV-AIDS, and many said also how good it was to be part of the Lutheran communion. At the end, all thanked their Canadian hosts.

Tonight, in the final plenary of the Ecumenical Pre-Conference, before the Interfaith Pre-Conference tomorrow, we listened to Rick Warren, pastor of Saddleback Church in California, author of The Purpose Driven Life. His words were moving, particularly when he shared how he had had to repent, when God had brought him to a realization that his ministry, even with millions of dollars for his book (all given away), and his 86,000 member congregation, was leaving out those nearest and dearest to the heart of God: the poorest of the poor, the marginalized, the despised and rejected of the world, including those suffering from HIV-AIDS. He was warmly received.

But then we listened to the Rev. Canon Gideon Byamugisha, of the Church of Uganda (Anglican), now working for World Vision International, as Church and Faith Based Organizations Resource Person for HIV-AIDS. He was the very first clergy person in all of Africa to break the silence on his own status, HIV positive. He spoke powerfully, lovingly, hopefully, even humourously, about the struggle against HIV-AIDS, asking us all again to keep the promise, trusting finally in the promise of God, made flesh in Jesus the Christ. He concluded with a benediction, and received a standing ovation.

We concluded with worship, praying, singing, finally even dancing and singing together, celebrating the faithfulness of the One who loves us all, the merciful and compassionate God made known most clearly in Jesus Christ, the very one who calls us to follow him in lives of discipleship, not just membership, to be together in mission for others.

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