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Presbyterian Ministry at the UN working to curb resurgence of HIV/AIDS

Faith communities create video to boost awareness, compassion

by Rich Copley | Presbyterian News Service

Ryan D. Smith (fifth from right), director of the Presbyterian Ministry at the United Nations, helped gather a group of New York-based ministers, including Rev. Derrick W. McQueen of St. James Presbyterian Church in New York City (far left), for a World AIDS Day video produced by Common Voice. (Screenshot courtesy of Common Voice)

LOUISVILLE — The Presbyterian Ministry at the United Nations has taken a lead in an ecumenical effort to use World AIDS Day Saturday to destigmatize the disease and curb its resurgence.

To that end, PMUN director Ryan D. Smith and other Presbyterian leaders helped create a video with different faith leaders and communities vowing to fight the disease through awareness and compassion.

“The goal is really to communicate to religious communities to destigmatize HIV/AIDS and have religious communities be a place where testing is encouraged and people who are HIV positive or have AIDS feel welcome and comfortable,” Smith said on Friday.

The video, presented by the ecumenical group Common Voice, has contributions from 14 congregations in the United States and Africa and 24 religious leaders, including Smith and the Rev. Dr. Derrick W. McQueen of St. James Presbyterian Church in New York City. A montage of news clips offers a brief history of the development of the AIDS crisis, ending with the news that, “We are … at the highest risk ever of losing control of the epidemic since all of this began,” according to Dr. Mark Dybul, who served as the executive director of the Global Fund to Fight AIDS from 2012-17.

The video goes on to share portions of the Common Voice Pledge for religious groups to “re-commit to ending AIDS,” shared in the voices of leaders and congregations, ending with the Civil Rights anthem, “We Shall Overcome.”

Participants in the video include Westlake Hills Prayer House; the Church of Central Africa Presbyterian in Livingstone, Zambia; and First Presbyterian Church of Corvallis, Oregon.

The executive producer of the video is Dr. David Barstow, a ruling elder at First Presbyterian Church in Corvallis  and founder of EMPACT Africa, a not-for-profit organization that works with pastors in Southern Africa to eliminate the stigma of HIV/AIDS, according to the organization’s website.

Smith said stigmatization has been a cause of a resurgence in the number of cases of AIDS.

“In the U.S., it’s minority communities that are seeing the surge in HIV infections, especially the black and Latino community and the (transgender) community are seeing resurgences in HIV infection rates,” he said. “In Africa, that’s why it’s so important to have faith leaders speaking out about HIV/AIDS, because part of the way the disease is spread is by not talking about it and not knowing your status.”

The Presbyterian AIDS Network provides a variety of resources for individuals, congregations, and other communities to address the AIDS epidemic.

Smith said he enjoyed helping coordinate the video, which was shot in part in the interfaith Tillman Chapel in the Church Center for the UN and incorporated a number of religious leaders in the New York area.

“One of the pieces of our ministry is a ministry of presence — being with the faith community at the United Nations,” Smith said. “So being able to use those connections and that privilege that we have as the PC(USA) to bring folks together to work to end AIDS, it’s really pretty special. It’s a way to use the ministry at the UN to be a connecting place for people of all faiths to work to end death and stigma from disease.”




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