Well, I am back home, and am going to do things a little differently. Gonna back-track a little bit and talk about some things that I have observed, learned, encountered and decisions that I have thus made. I am glad to be home, because the conference for me was a little overwhelming. While I enjoyed the conference, I really enjoyed the pre-conference better. The pre-conference involved all faith communitie from all over the world.
It basically called for all religious leaders to become more accountable. These promises were made in the 8 Millennium Development Goals. The government so far doesn’t seem to have made much progress in achieving these goals. The religious community cannot afford to sit back and let this pandemic continue to run rampant in our communities, in our countries, in our world. And so, we gathered together to make promises to ourselves and each other, that we would do all we can.
During the afternoon plenary, Presiding Bishop Hanson (Bishop of the ELCA), gave a rousing and passionate speech about religious leaders keeping the promise..he said something to the effect of: “how can religious leaders keep a promise that they have never made?”..that blew me away.
Workshops that I attended for the three days that we met were:
Are you dealing with a full deck?: This was a workshop that I facilitated with Bishop Phaswana from South Africa, Janet Grill from LANET (Lutheran Aids Network), and Pat Zerega. We had a deck of cards with which we had compiled names, contact numbers and a brief summary of HIV/Aids ministries or resources. We also spent a considerable portion of the workshop breaking off and brainstorming to get additional ministries and resources to add to the blank cards that were also in the deck. It will be interesting later on, to understand that this is the second time that I am meeting Bishop Phaswana. I met him back in 2004, when I visited his diocese and with his support group.
Positive Voices: A workshop about people of faith living in Africa, that disclosed their status and the struggles that they encountered. I first met Pastor Canon Gideon there, and was impressed by his story. We received a book with about 10 different stories, that can be used in congregations to begin the dialogue about people living with hiv/aids. A very enlightening workshop.
The key role of religous leaders in overcoming stigma: A workshop that was about just what it says. In that workshop, I shared that while I have been very open about my diagnosis, and that everybody knows, I am worried that it will be a problem when it comes time for me to begin interviewing for calls. I then learned that in effect, I am stigmatizing myself. I never thought of it that way. I also heard a powerful testimony from Pastor Patricia Sawo, from East Africa. A man walked up to me afterwards (Frank Imhoff) and asked me if I would be willing to do an interview. He is with the ELCA. The lutheran church headquarters which is located in Chicago. I told him I would pray on it, and get back to him.
A movie of Pastor Canon Gideon: After closing worship, I went to see a small video of Pastor Gideon that was in an earlier session. He is an Anglican Priest of Uganda, who found out that he was HIV Positive. The movie highlights his journey in that respect.
He spoke later on in a plenary session, and as I was discerning my own disclosure to the national church, I had dinner with him, the next day.
Waking the Sleeping Giant: was a workhop that dealt with how to wake up congregations..how to get them to begin the conversation about HIV/AIDS. I especially wanted to know how to do this in the context of a rich white church, or a predominately white congregation (that is does not have these types of issues in their radar). They had a powerpoint presentation, that wasn’t bad, but it had an image of an african young man..you know that ones that show all their ribs and huge bulging eyes? Well, I took offense to that photo, and let them know it at the end of the presentation. I mean, c’mon. We all know what AIDS looks like in poor undernourished third world countries. But for God’s sake..how does HIV/AIDS look like here in our own neighborhood? I didn’t mind that photo, if other photos were going to be shown of different people. White people, black people, indian people, latino people. This disease is striking all races…not just those in Africa.
We also had a photo shoot, that basically turned into a demonstration around Nathan Phillips Square in Toronto. (I am behind the second banner underneath the letter “T”.)
In between, there was a lot of networking, a lot of talking, just learning about everyone you came in contact with. The universal question was: “what brings you here?”..and then you got the person’s story.
Remember I told you that Frank wanted to do an interview on me? Well, I talked with a few people about it. And the morning that I was going to make my decision, the Bishop sat down next to me (wouldn’t you know it?). And I told him of my intentions. He is very supportive. Just told me to make sure it was what I wanted to do. To make sure that I “define myself”, and not to let the church “define” me. Otherwise, don’t let the church put me in a box. I will also have to be careful that people don’t try to attach themselves to me. I may be blowing things out of proportion, but anyway, I decided to do the interview.