Tuesday, March 17, 2009

ELCA Bishops Participate in HIV Screening

Shrimp here, with ELCA News' follow-up from about an hour ago on our "Purpose Driven Bishops" post from last November, for which we posted this "Media Advisory" 2 weeks ago.

ELCA Bishops Participate in HIV Screening

Bishop Wayne Miller, left, ELCA Metropolitan Chicago Synod, takes a swab for an HIV test from Sharon Gerc, Advocate Lutheran General Hospital, Park Ridge, Ill. ELCA Presiding Bishop Mark Hanson, center, also took an HIV test.

CHICAGO (ELCA) -- Hoping to encourage other church leaders and lessen the stigma and discrimination that often surrounds HIV and AIDS, most members of the Conference of Bishops of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) participated in HIV screening March 5 here at the Lutheran Center.

The ELCA Conference of Bishops is an advisory body of the church, consisting of bishops who lead the 65 synods of the ELCA, plus the ELCA presiding bishop and ELCA secretary.  The conference met March 5-10 here and in Itasca, Ill.

At least 56 members of the conference were screened, said the Rev. Andrea DeGroot-Nesdahl, ELCA Office of the Presiding Bishop. One or more bishops were screened prior to the meeting, and a few were not able to attend, she said.

Staff with Advocate Lutheran General Hospital, Park Ridge, Ill., supervised the screening, done with an oral swab.  Results will be reported to members' physicians.

The conference agreed to the screening last October.  Through screening, members said they could raise awareness about AIDS-related issues including prevention, testing, treatment, care, stigma and discrimination.  The conference also wanted the testing to call attention to a proposed churchwide HIV and AIDS strategy, to be considered by the ELCA Church Council later this month.

"I hope that (the bishops) create awareness in their own synods and with their global companions that they indeed participated in the testing, and in that way raise awareness of the concern both locally and globally," said the Rev. Paul Stumme-Diers, bishop, ELCA Greater Milwaukee Synod, and chair of the conference's Ministry Among People in Poverty (MAPP) committee, which proposed the testing.

The Rev. Marie C. Jerge, bishop, ELCA Upstate New York Synod, Camillus, and vice chair of the conference, said HIV and AIDS is an important subject to her because the synod maintains a companion relationship with the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Zimbabwe. The synod has been working with the Zimbabwe church on HIV prevention and supporting AIDS orphans, she said.

"It's also part of (helping) to raise awareness in our own communities," Jerge said.  "This is one way we can make that kind of a witness."  She added she hopes the ELCA Conference of Bishops' action will influence others, including bishops of the United Methodist Church, which expressed an interest in doing something similar.

Reflecting on the experience, the Rev. Jon V. Anderson, bishop, ELCA Southwestern Minnesota Synod, Redwood Falls, said, "I'm haunted by the memory of fresh graves in huge fields."

He explained, "We visited a big church of our companion church body, the southeastern diocese of South Africa.  We were looking out into the field.  I asked, 'Is this one of the fields that you need help working on with agricultural issues?'  The (local) bishop said, "No, it's full of dead bodies, Jon.'  People from nearby communities had begun to bury loved ones there.  He took me and showed me this."

Anderson said he believes that through the conference's HIV testing, it will help other religious leaders lead their people to be tested, address stigma, break through fear, and deepen understanding of HIV and AIDS.  Ultimately he hopes the ELCA bishops' example will encourage others to work to prevent HIV and care for people with HIV.

The Rev. Mark S. Hanson, ELCA presiding bishop, also participated in the screening.


Audio of Bishop Stumme-Diers is at http://media.ELCA.org/audionews/090316a.mp3

Audio of Bishop Jerge is at http://media.ELCA.org/audionews/090316b.mp3

Audio of Bishop Anderson is at http://media.ELCA.org/audionews/090316c.mp3

Information about the ELCA's response to HIV and AIDS is at http://www.ELCA.org/Our-Faith-In-Action/Justice/Poverty-Ministries/HIV-and-AIDS.aspx on the ELCA Web site.

For information contact:
John Brooks, Director (773) 380-2958 or news@elca.org
ELCA News Blog: http://www.elca.org/news/blog


Marshall Hahn said...

I know that privacy concerns would prevent any particular results being made public, but will the statistical results be published? What percentage are tested HIV positive? What percentage are diagnosed with AIDS? Will there be follow-up testing every 3 years or so in order to track the prevalence of HIV/AIDS among ELCA bishops? These are important concerns which I hope are pursued by the Conference of Bishops of the ELCA.

Marshall Hahn

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