Members of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) are being invited this weekend and next to remember and demonstrate support for people living with and affected by HIV and AIDS through a worship service, event or advocacy activity.
With World AIDS Day observations just a few days away, the Lutheran denomination is more actively raising awareness of the plight of some 33 million people worldwide who are infected by the virus, as estimated by the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS.
"World AIDS Day shines a light of awareness on the pandemic of HIV and AIDS," said the Rev. Andrea DeGroot-Nesdahl, ELCA coordinator for the HIV and AIDS Strategy and the Lutheran Malaria Initiative. "It's important for all people of faith, infected or not, to stand together against this epidemic that is taking such a devastating toll."
Earlier this year, the ELCA Churchwide Assembly approved a three-year, $10 million fund-raising proposal to support a strategy adopted by the ELCA Church Council to address HIV and AIDS.
The strategy, outlined in a 30-page report, identifies six key areas for strategic response by a church body as well as specific goals and actions in each area.
As part of the strategy, ELCA acknowledges that it is a church body that is HIV-positive - both because members of the Church have HIV and because the ELCA "understands itself as living in the world and responding to its critical issues."
And as an HIV-positive Church, ELCA says it is called to biblical and theological reflection in community; called to effective prevention, treatment, and care; called to eradicate stigma and discrimination; called to walk with companion churches and partners in other countries; called to advocate for justice; and called to build institutional capacity and make strategic choices.
According to DeGroot-Nesdahl, the ELCA Strategy on HIV and AIDS represents an ongoing engagement with the pandemic both globally and domestically.
"The ELCA has a long history of partnering with global companions on HIV and AIDS ministry," she stated in an announcement disseminated through the denomination's news service.
"Those same companion churches have encouraged the ELCA to also attend to the growing number of infections in the United States, and to become a more HIV-competent church in our own country," DeGroot-Nesdahl added.
ELCA is currently an alliance member of the Ecumenical Advocacy Alliance (EAA), an international network of churches and Christian organizations cooperating in advocacy about global trade, and HIV and AIDS.
The EAA, in turn, is part of the World AIDS campaign – a network that works in response to HIV and AIDS and that was responsible for selecting this year's World AIDS Day theme, "Universal Access and Human Rights."
According to the EAA, this year's World AIDS Day theme aims to encourage people to deepen understanding, develop partnerships and challenge discriminatory laws, policies and practices that stand in the way of access for all people to HIV prevention, treatment, care and support.
As it is each year, this year's World AIDS Day will be observed on Dec. 1.