Participants in a service of remembrance in Baton Rouge place pebbles in a basket as they remember loved ones who died of complications from HIV/AIDS, in December 2011.
By Julia Kayser*
February 8, 2013—In June 2011, at the 41st session of the Louisiana Annual Conference of The United Methodist Church, then Bishop William W. Hutchinson put what looked like a popsicle stick into his mouth. The gathering held its collective breath.
After rubbing the stick over his top and bottom gums, Bishop Hutchinson calmly handed it off to be tested for HIV and AIDS. That weekend, he instructed all of the pastors in the conference to get tested—in front of their communities.
“We want to show by example that it’s important, it’s necessary, and it’s a short little test,” says Margaret Johnson, chair of the conference’s Global Health task force.
With a grant from the United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR), the task force has created a resource manual and a video on how to start HIV testing sites in churches. Louisiana has the fifth highest rate of HIV/AIDS in the country.
“As I began to learn more about people who are HIV positive… and what was going on in our state,” Johnson says, “God instilled this passion in me to help these people and find ways to educate them.”
The first thing the task force did was to host a World AIDS Day event in Baton Rouge. At the event, clergy, state coordinators, and community leaders told them it was too hard to get tested.
“That was when we knew we had to provide free testing,” says Johnson. So the group hosted an ecumenical testing day and started working on a manual to share what they had learned in the process.
The grant from UMCOR, through its domestic HIV/AIDS fund, made it possible. “UMCOR is very easy to work with,” Johnson says.
She recommends that anyone who considers applying for grant money should get in touch with UMCOR early on. Clear goals, timelines, and responsibilities are required.
“They WANT to give you money,” Johnson insists. “They really do! But they have to be good stewards of the resources they have.” She says it’s crucial to fill out paperwork completely and stay in contact.
The Louisiana Annual Conference’s next step is to develop a formal campaign to get its resources into people’s hands. It has already partnered in this effort with Volunteers of America, HAART, and the State of Louisiana. The conference also plans to continue working with UMCOR.
Patricia Magyar, UMCOR Global Health executive, is excited about the resources that the conference has developed. “It was their idea—they came to us with a grant request—and we’ve been behind them all the way,” she says.
Of the manual, Magyar adds, “It’s so dynamic! I was really impressed!”
Partnerships between United Methodist annual conferences and UMCOR can bear wonderful fruit. How will your community get involved?
You can support projects like this one in the United States and around the world by donating to the United Methodist Global AIDS Fund, UMCOR Advance #982345.
*Julia Kayser is a writer and a regular contributor to www.umcor.org