2019 World AIDS Day theme is Community by Community.
Around the world, we December 1 as World AIDS day to look back and reflect on the many efforts by different peoples, organizations, and groups locally and internationally in fighting HIV and its social stigma. To look back also means to see what else can be done today and moving forward to improve our efforts, networks, and alliances to combat this disease.
It is fitting that we recognize communities and its vital work in saving lives; various communities provide various services, care and support for people living with or affected by HIV and AIDS. Communities also provide opportunities for others to volunteer, serve and minister to those whose only hope is God.
Metropolitan Community Churches in North America in our early history of the 80s and early 90s were heavily involved and affected by the AIDS Crisis when the decease was newly identified. There was no treatment yet at the time. It became a crisis with the exponential number of people dying. MCC Churches were hardest hit being that we were a sanctuary of LGBTQI+ folks. Members and leaders of MCC died not only by the decease but also by the horrible stigma and discrimination that society and other churches propagated. MCC Churches, especially our women clergy, had to care for many people who were dying of the decease. One story goes that some of our clergies had to do between 8 to 14 funerals a week aside from visiting hospitals to hold the hands of the dying. The people they cared for and served were their friends, lovers, chosen families, and parishioners. Some of our leaders did not recover or had a hard time recovering from the trauma of witnessing so many deaths of their own people. MCC Churches in those early years was one of the first responders to those who were dying of the decease. MCC Churches were also the first responder against the irrational, false and hate-filled religious propaganda of many other churches and church leaders that called AIDS as the “gay decease”; that God sent to punish the LGBT community. MCC made the counter and more rational argument that this is a decease like any other decease that can infect anyone, not just LGBTs. It was NOT a punishment from God. MCC Churches were doing God’s work of compassion in many fronts and “battlefields” while more than half of our own members and clergy were themselves dying or got traumatized by so many deaths. Yet we persisted in our faith, social protest, and gospel proclamation because we were community together and we were a community for those who had none.
Here in the Philippines, we have a looming HIV crisis as infections and deaths continue to rise especially among the young. HIV organizations, groups and some religious communities such as ourselves continue to face many challenges in providing support and care for people living with HIV and AIDS. We also have challenges in educating the wider society regarding HIV and sexual health. Hence the greater need to reinforce our communities, organizations, groups and religious institutions with a stronger sense of community and networking. We must integrate clear guidelines and principles of care among our communities while staying true and steadfast with our mission. A few Sundays ago, I wrote a letter using the principle of Rev. Troy Perry, “The main thing is to keep the main thing, the main thing” and I said that the main thing is to love one another as Christ has loved us.
Christian love demands us to live our lives in community and to serve one another. This is who we are and this is what we do as a community of faith. The main thing this World AIDS day for Open Table MCC is to remember the ways by which our faith-ancestors served, lived and died with and for those living and dying of HIV and AIDS. Choi found a true spiritual community with Open Table MCC. He found spiritual healing and care amongst us. He served faithfully and with much passion in our Church community. He loved us tenderly and in the best possible way she can. We remember her today not in sadness but in our commitment to always be a safe space for her blood sisters, brothers, and siblings. We remember her not in grief but in our commitment to amplifying our voice to counter the continuing false propaganda of the religious-conservative.
Let us keep the main thing, the main thing and the main thing this world AIDS day is to be community to those whose only hope and only healing are in God.