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Congregational Resources for World AIDS Day 2017


Today’s post is from Megan Neubauer, Program Associate for the ELCA Strategy on HIV and AIDS. This post originally appeared on the ELCA Worship blog.

Spirit of the living God, you breathe on all that is. You lead us from the places of pain and difficulty to your cool living waters of health and wholeness. Through you every tear is wiped away and we are transformed by your wellsprings of life.

-Litany from ELCA worship resources for World AIDS Day

December 1st is quickly approaching. Each year, this is a day set aside to commemorate World AIDS Day; a day of remembrance, awareness, and commitment to action.

In 2009, the ELCA Churchwide Assembly passed the ELCA’s Strategy on HIV and AIDS, outlining where the ELCA is being called in the response:

  • Called to biblical and theological reflection in community
  • Called to effective prevention, treatment, and care
  • Called to eradicate stigma and discrimination
  • Called to walk with companion churches and partners in other countries
  • Called to advocate for justice
  • Called to build institutional capacity and make strategic choices

The ELCA and each of its members have the opportunity to speak out powerfully against all forms of stigma, discrimination and systemic inequality. Together, we can be affirming communities and engage in open conversations. Collectively, we can raise our voices in advocating for just policies. And as a community of faith, we can begin in worship and prayer.

Coming together on Dec. 1st, or at our usual worship times on Sunday, Dec. 3rd, we join our neighbors around the world as we honor all who have lost their lives to AIDS-related illnesses; we seek encouragement to take bold action; we rejoice in scientific advances in effective prevention, treatment and care; and we are sent out in peace, freed to act.

As we gather this World AIDS Day, remember that on this and every day, we are called to respond.

You can find ELCA Worship resources here. The full ELCA Strategy on HIV and AIDS, along with other resources for World AIDS Day can be found here. You can also stay connected with the ELCA’s Strategy on HIV and AIDS on social media @ELCAHIVandAIDS, and can share what your congregation is planning for World AIDS Day 2017.

We thank you that by the life-giving power of your spirit you bestowed upon us, your people, such gifts as are needed to respond to the situation at hand. Pour on us all that we need to stop AIDS and reach out to everyone affected with compassion, healing and hope.

May we know your call to be leaders in this struggle and employ the courage, wisdom and resources you have given to respond to HIV and AIDS.


Awareness, Action, Advocacy: The ELCA Strategy on HIV and AIDS


“Isn’t that kind of…over?”

It is a surprisingly common reaction to my telling people what I do.

My name is Savanna Sullivan, and I am the Program Associate for the ELCA Strategy on HIV & AIDS. The Strategy on HIV & AIDS is a document the ELCA adopted in 2009 to direct the church’s engagement with communities living with and affected by HIV, and to outline our commitment to addressing HIV in the United States and the world. My work focuses on helping the ELCA live into the key commitments of the Strategy – like our commitment to theological reflection on our response to HIV and our inclusion of people living with HIV, our commitment to education and to effective prevention, treatment, and care of HIV, etc. And so, when I get a variation on that question, “Isn’t HIV over?” or comments like “It’s not as bad as it WAS,” I am frustrated, and then saddened, and then I get angry.

Because HIV isn’t over, but it could be.

What a simple thought, right? The reality is that there are STILL people being infected with HIV every day – 5,763 people every day, actually. That is 240 people an hour who are contracting a life-threatening illness. We know, too, that HIV doesn’t just affect people far away from us, in countries distant from our own. People in our own communities and congregations and fellow Lutherans in our companion churches are living with HIV.

In his letter to the Corinthians, Paul writes, “If one member (of the Body of Christ) suffers, all suffer together” (I Cor. 12:26). Friends, members of Our body are suffering unnecessarily.

Unnecessarily—because HIV is NOT what it was 30 years ago. Now, HIV is preventable.

Did you know there are prophylactic drugs available to reduce the likelihood of HIV infection during high-risk behavior (unprotected sex/drug use) to less than 30%? Or that there are medications that can prevent mother-to-child transmission of HIV to less than 1%? Did you know there are drugs that can reduce an HIV positive individual’s viral load (amount of virus in their blood) to the extent that they are very unlikely to pass it to anyone else? Here are some other basic statistics about the HIV epidemic.

So why do people still get HIV?

The answer is complicated and wrapped up in problems surrounding access to education about HIV, testing availability, and access to prophylactic drugs or to HIV treatment. The answer is chained to systems of oppression that keep this information and access from marginalized populations – from communities of color, low-income communities and the LGBTQ+ community, among others. The answer is entangled with issues like availability of resources and gender inequality in developing countries around the world. So largely, the answer is colored – still – by stigma.

HIV isn’t over, in part, because we are still afraid to talk about it. And that “we” includes us, the Church.

These issues need to be tackled, and that may feel like quite the undertaking for us as the Body of Christ. So where do we start? Well, as I begin my work helping the church to implement the ELCA Strategy on HIV and AIDS, I invite you to start by walking with me. I invite you to start by TALKING with me. It is high time we start conversations in our congregations and homes about HIV if we have not already. I invite you to pray with me for people whose lives have been affected by HIV. I invite you to repent with me for the ways the church has failed to include people living with HIV. Then, I invite you to act.

We in the churchwide office will be working hard to connect you all with resources for theological reflection in the coming months so you can check out for those resources, but you can also educate yourself about the HIV epidemic in the United States and around the world at You can act with ELCA Advocacy to fight for healthcare for people living with HIV. You can start talking.

Because we are the Body of Christ – when one of us suffers from HIV, we all suffer together.

And because HIV and AIDS isn’t over, but it could be.

Here are some other links that you can check out:


Savanna Sullivan is the program associate for the ELCA Strategy on HIV and AIDS. She can be reached at


World Health Day – Hunger and Health


World Health Day, sponsored by the World Health Organization, is an opportunity to raise awareness of global health issues. It is celebrated every April 7. This year, we are pleased to have a guest post from Katy Ajer. Katy program director of health and sustainable development for the ELCA’s Global Mission unit.


“Why should health be a priority within ELCA World Hunger programs?”

This was a question raised during the interview process for the position I currently hold as Program Director of Health and Sustainable Development within ELCA Global Mission. However, as we celebrate World Health Day – acknowledging all the efforts that are made throughout the world to improve the health of individuals and communities and the work that still needs to be done – I think the more important question is HOW are we a church called to respond to health inequalities in the United States and around the world.

We are called as a church to respond to health inequalities because those health inequalities are frequently not the result of biological chance but the result of other systemic injustices and power dynamics. We know that health is not in a silo but is deeply interconnected with hunger and poverty. The graphic below provides a visual of all the aspects of our lives that affect our health.

We know that health injustice is in direct relation to economic justice. We know that those who are poorest are least likely to be able to access health services, medicine, or even the clean water and nutritional food that would help prevent some of the diseases. We know that they oftentimes have a cyclical relationship – once sick, people miss work, resulting in less money for the necessary treatment and continued worsening health.

All of which brings us back to the question above: HOW are we as a church called to respond to health inequalities in the United States and around the world. When looking at the graphic to the right and all the areas that influence our health, it can often be overwhelming to decide where and how to start implementing efforts to improve health. In my short time at the ELCA, I’ve had the pleasure of learning how many of our companions around the world, with support from ELCA World Hunger, work to alleviate the short-term suffering of individuals while taking multi-pronged approaches to improve the long-term health of the communities. Below are some examples of this important work.

Educación Popular en Salud (EPES)

EPES in Chile provides nutritional courses with a twist through its Promotion of Nutrition project. It looks at the issue with a focus on rights and with attention to gender, in addition to nutrition value. What this means in practice is that in addition to education about nutritional foods and recipes, they examine the food production chain and how that can affect the nutrition of the food and the health of the surrounding environment, which in turn affects the health of the people. The participants then decide on actions to take to share this information and encourage healthy food choices and changes in food production or availability so that all may have access to nutritious food. Most recently, they have created a cookbook filled with nutritious recipes as well as a mural on a street advocating for decreased production pollution that can impact the ability to cultivate crops and the quality of the food.

Artists with EPES celebrate in front of the completed mural

Lutheran Communion in Southern Africa (LUCSA)

LUCSA InfoHuts projects in Namibia, Zimbabwe, and Malawi work to contribute to a generation free of HIV and AIDS by combining life skills and sexual and reproductive health education with computer use training. At first it may seem like an odd mixture of topics for a project; however, as with many of the projects that combine health education with livelihood training, students leave more knowledgeable about how to prevent and/or treat HIV and AIDS and have a new employable skill that allows them to earn money for nutritious food, medications and other needs to maintain good health or treat any future health concerns early on. By addressing both health and poverty, the impact is often greater and more transformative.


Students learn computer maintenance at the Vashandiri InfoHut Zimbabwe

A life skills facilitator teaches students in Zimbabwe.

Lutheran Health Care Bangladesh (LHCB)

LHCB provides quality clinic care as a hospital and mobile clinic but also operates activities focusing on other aspects that impact the health of their patients and community. They provide livelihood training in agriculture development, vegetable gardening, poultry and livestock, and tree planting. They organize the installation of safer stoves that are less harmful for the lungs of the women who cook over them. LHCB also works on raising awareness and mobilizing their community through workshops on gender and human rights, advocacy meetings, and community dialogues. Recently, they arranged a space in the hospital for breastfeeding to encourage the practice while providing mothers with privacy should they desire.

How are we as a church called to respond to health inequalities in the United States and around the world this World Health Day?

I had been in this position for little over a month when we recognized World HIV Day here. One of the most impactful parts of the day was a reflection read aloud by Kim Serry, who attended the US Conference on AIDS in 2016 with a delegation from the ELCA. Throughout the reflection, she came back time and again to the proclamation of African theologians, “The Body of Christ has AIDS.” She also paraphrased Melissa Harris Perry who made a similar claim:

“Our collective HIV status matters. It is not to say that our individual status does not matter, it certainly does. It means that our communal life suffers when individuals in our community suffer. It means that our communities are gravely sick when power and privilege determine who is shielded from harm and who will suffer it… and a pharmaceutical will not fix that.”

An aspect that is present within each of these projects that positively impacts health (although we often don’t think about it in these terms) is the sense of community that arises. These and many other ELCA World Hunger-supported projects work with groups over time, and these groups become social support systems that can help participants maintain good health physically, emotional, and spiritually. This support can arise through sharing knowledge between neighbors, helping one another recognize health symptoms that may not be noticed otherwise, lending money through Village Savings and Loan Groups for medication or transportation to a hospital, and, importantly, listening to one another and praying together during difficult times.

We are part of that Body of Christ. While some of us receive the burden of poor health unfairly, we all suffer. We are part of the social support system that is so important in creating equality that all may have the best health possible – that there is justice in who has access to health care and medication, to clean water and nutritious foods, to environments free from violence, and to opportunities to learn.

So, this World Health Day I give thanks to our partners, companions, and missionaries around the world and in the United States, striving to alleviate short-term pains and illnesses and to address root causes of health inequalities to ensure that all can live a healthy and joyful life. Thank you for your work and thank you for teaching us how to address health injustices with a Christian heart.

Photos above are courtesy of: EPES (Chile), Evangelical Lutheran Church in Zimbabwe, and Lutheran Health Care Bangladesh.