A test of solidarity

Presbyterian AIDS Network to sponsor free HIV tests at GA, hopes to raise awareness, reduce stigma

June 10, 2010

LOUISVILLE

Next month, Presbyterians will gather in Minneapolis for the 219th General Assembly, where they'll listen, learn, debate, vote and worship.

And for some, the week will also include an HIV test.

 The Presbyterian AIDS Network (PAN), one of the 10 networks of the Presbyterian Health Education and Welfare Association, is sponsoring free HIV tests July 3-7.

 "What we want to do is get some prominent Presbyterians to sign up to get an HIV test," said the Rev. Howard Dotson, a member of PAN.

PAN hopes that highlighting leaders being tested will help reduce the stigma surrounding HIV/AIDS. Several leaders have already publicly agreed to be tested; the invitation to be tested is open to all.

"A lot of people think something is wrong with you if you get tested," Dotson said. "The reality is that the virus is an equal-opportunity destroyer."

The testing is a gesture of solidarity and a matter of integrity — if PC(USA) leaders encourage others to be tested, they must be willing to do so themselves.

"The test is a finger prick, with results taking about five minutes to come in. The test will be conducted by certified counselors and possibly local medical students," Dotson said. Pastoral support and references to physicians will also be available for anyone who tests positive. The tests are covered by a grant from the Minnesota Department of Health. The testing station will be open from noon-4:30 p.m. July 3-7 and can accommodate four people at a time.

PAN is planning several other awareness-raising activities for GA, July 3-10.

Next to the testing site in the exhibit hall, PAN will display a section of The AIDS Memorial Quilt. Begun in 1987, The Quilt serves as a memorial, HIV-prevention tool and a community art project. People can submit quilt squares with the name of a loved one who died of AIDS.

In the past few years, PAN has organized a couple of trips to see parts of The Quilt where it is housed in Atlanta. The most recent of these trips was during last summer’s Big Tent event.

"It's been so important for us that we wanted to share it with the entire church," said Bob Schminkey, co-moderator of PAN.

The GA quilt display will measure about 12 feet by 12 feet. Schminkey said he hopes it will be one of the many AIDS awareness projects that will impact people at GA. The testing will affect people physically and overtures and literature will affect them intellectually.

"The Quilt becomes sort of the emotional, spiritual piece that helps round out the program," he said.

There will also be a lunch and sidewalk art project at nearby Kwanzaa Community Church on July 8. Sidewalks Saving Lives is a ministry of the church in which volunteers work with professional artists to paint community sidewalks with messages of HIV prevention. One key message is ABC: abstain, be faithful and use a condom.

Since the project started in 2008, the reaction from the community has been positive, said the Rev. Alika Galloway, co-pastor of Kwanzaa. The stigma surrounding HIV/AIDS hinders a lot of prevention messages, but putting the messages into beautiful art allows people to get information in a private way.

"If it's beautiful, people will stop and look at it," Galloway said.

During the project, participants will help make art, but the real goal is for them to take what they've learned and carry it home. Kwanzaa will offer information on HIV/AIDS prevention as well as practical tips for churches interested in starting a community art project.

PAN isn't the only group that will discuss HIV/AIDS at GA.

The GA Health Issues committee will discuss three overtures dealing with HIV/AIDS, and the Advisory Committee on Social Witness Policy will present a report called "Becoming an HIV and AIDS Competent Church: Prophetic Witness and Compassionate Action." The report was developed in response to a referral from the 218th GA (2008) to develop a comprehensive study on HIV and AIDS that would identify issues impacting people living with HIV and AIDS and would recommend to the PC(USA) a response of compassionate action and prophetic witness.

PC(USA) leaders who have publicly agreed to be tested at GA:

The Rev. Bruce S. Reyes-Chow
Moderator of the 218th GA

The Rev. Byron Wade
Vice Moderator of the 218th GA

Randy Ackley
Coordinator, Presbyterian Disaster Assistance

Carol Adcock, Elder
Chair of General Assembly Mission Council, 2008-2010

The Rev. Robert L. Brashear
West-Park Presbyterian Church
PHEWA Board of Directors

Pamela Byers
Executive Director, Covenant Network of Presbyterians

Vikki Dearing, Elder
Co-Moderator,  More Light Presbyterians Board of Directors

The Rev. Sue Ezell
General Assembly Mission Council
pastor of two churches

Ruth Farrell
Coordinator, Presbyterian Hunger Program

Martha Bettis Gee
Associate for Child Advocacy & Networking, GAMC

The Rev. Jack D. Hodges
General Assembly Mission Council

The Rev. Madeline Jervis, H. R.
Member, National Board, More Light Presbyterians

The Rev. Jeanne MacKenzie
Pastor Emeritus, Westminster Presbyterian Church

Betty Meadows
General Presbyter, Mid-Kentucky Presbytery

The Rev. DouglasMitchell
Westminster Presbyterian Church, PHEWA Board of Directors

Conrad M. Rocha
Acting Stated Clerk, Synod of the Southwest
General Assembly Mission Council

Jerri Rodewald, Elder
Co-Chair, Advocacy Committee for Women’s Concerns

Bob Schminkey, Elder
Co-Moderator, Presbyterian AIDS Network (PAN)

The Rev. Nancy K. Troy
PHEWA Executive Director, 2000-2009

Beth Van Sickle
Member, National Board, More Light Presbyterians

Mary Lynn Walters
General Assembly Mission Council

The Rev. John F. Wichman
Westminster Hills Presbyterian Church
PHEWA Board of Directors

The Rev. Nancy K. Young
Coordinator, Racial Ethnic & Women’s Leadership Development, GAMC

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