ELCA NEWS SERVICE
April 4, 2011
ELCA Congregation's HIV Screening Effort Earns 'USA Weekend' Recognition
CHICAGO (ELCA) -- USA Weekend will recognize the city of Wheaton, Ill., and several of its community organizations, including St. Paul Lutheran Church, with the magazine's annual "Make a Difference Day" city award. The announcement will be featured in the magazine's April 10 issue.
Members of St. Paul Lutheran Church, a congregation of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA), offered HIV screening and provided educational information on HIV and AIDS during Wheaton's "Make a Difference Day" Oct. 23, 2010.
St. Paul Lutheran Church has organized at least three community HIV screenings since 2009, working with the DuPage County (Ill.) Health Department, whose personnel conduct the testing. Each time, St. Paul Lutheran Church has encouraged its own members and the Wheaton community to get tested and learn more about HIV and AIDS, said the Rev. Melody Beckman Eastman, senior pastor, St. Paul Lutheran Church.
The screenings may help reduce the stigma and discrimination experienced by people who are HIV positive and help people learn about their own status, possibly preventing the spread of HIV, Eastman said. Through the screenings, the congregation is contributing in its own way to the ELCA Strategy on HIV and AIDS, she said.
Eastman said St. Paul is a diverse congregation of 650 baptized members with a significant community outreach. Some members are HIV positive, and some members' relatives are HIV positive. St. Paul Lutheran Church members have learned a lot about HIV and AIDS, and have also participated in the screenings themselves.
St. Paul members Lois Johnson and Pat Rosborne have organized the congregation's HIV screenings, each bringing her own connection to the effort.
Johnson's son, David Arnesen, died of complications from AIDS at age 35 in September 1995, shortly after his diagnosis in June of that year. The congregation and its pastors, who did not know her son, "nurtured him and his family unconditionally," Johnson said.
Eastman said that experience brought a personal connection to the congregation and showed how HIV and AIDS affects people and their families. In particular, the congregation realized that "we're talking about our children," she said.
"We understood the importance of responding to HIV and AIDS, and we've had some other community connections that have kept that present before us," Eastman said. "The congregation had an 'open heart' to step into that witness."
Rosborne said she became a member of St. Paul Lutheran Church in 2007. She became interested in HIV screening after attending a World AIDS Day breakfast with Johnson. There, she "got a first-hand picture of how it affects the family," she said.
One of the speakers at that event was a young woman whose brother had died of complications from AIDS. "What really struck me was that she didn't feel comfortable talking with her brother about this, and he didn't feel comfortable talking with her. For me, it showed not only how bad the disease was, but how it also had a negative effect on the family," Rosborne said. "That shouldn't be."
It may seem unusual to some that a congregation would be involved in HIV screening. But not for Rosborne.
"A church can be a comfortable, welcoming place for people to be tested anonymously," she said. "I think that by having a screening at a church, it opens up conversation, and it can help bring in members of the community."
Members of St. Paul Lutheran Church and other local community service organizations that participated in "Make a Difference Day" in 2010 were recognized at a meeting of the Wheaton City Council March 21.
Each year, USA Today honors three cities for their participation in "Make a Difference Day," a national day that focuses on neighbors helping neighbors through community service. St. Paul Lutheran Church was one of many Wheaton organizations that participated in 2010, including the local chamber of commerce, local schools and school organizations, and a nonprofit organization, the People's Resource Center, which shares resources to help residents of DuPage County, Ill. They participated in such things as food drives, letter-writing and donation campaigns for U.S. troops overseas, and the HIV screening.
Information about St. Paul Lutheran Church is at http://www.stpaulwheaton.org/ on the Web.
Information about the ELCA's HIV and AIDS strategy is at http://www.ELCA.org/AIDS on the ELCA website.
About the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA)
The ELCA is one of the largest Christian denominations in the United States, with approximately 4.5 million members in more than 10,000 congregations across the 50 states and in the Caribbean region. Known as the church of "God's work. Our hands," the ELCA emphasizes the saving grace of God through faith in Jesus Christ, unity among Christians and service in the world. The ELCA's roots are in the writings of the German church reformer, Martin Luther.
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