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World AIDS Day 2018 – Out of Darkness, Light

December 1 is World AIDS Day, an important occasion to remember those who have died because of this disease, to re-commit ourselves and our church to accompanying people living with HIV or AIDS, and to raise awareness to continue the fight against HIV. This World AIDS Day, Pastor Joe Larson of St. Mark’s Lutheran Church in Fargo, North Dak., shares his story of hope in the midst of darkness and the congregation’s ministry among neighbors living with HIV and AIDS in Minnesota and North Dakota. Their work is supported by a grant from ELCA World Hunger.

“Bringing Hope into a Dark World”

“O Come, O Come, Emmanuel” is a favorite Advent hymn that puts into words the feelings that many of us face this time of year:

O Come, O Dayspring, come and cheer
   our spirits by your Advent here;
Disperse the gloomy clouds of night
   and death’s dark shadows put to flight;
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
   shall come to thee O Israel.

This is an old hymn. Back in the Middle Ages, an unknown monk penned these words during a dark time. Humanity was threatened by the Black Death, wars and ignorance. Yet, out of the darkness came a beautiful song. Its haunting melody and poetic verses convey the mixture of sadness and hope that go hand-in-hand with a disease like HIV/AIDS.

I know what it’s like to create hope out of darkness. Thirty years ago, I lost a partner to AIDS. Since then, I’ve spent most of my career with programs for people living with HIV/AIDS. For 14 years, I served as executive director of the Aliveness Project, an AIDS service organization in Minneapolis that provides hot meals, a food shelf program, integrative therapies and other supportive services for people living with HIV/AIDS.

When I started serving St. Mark’s Lutheran Church in Fargo nearly three years ago, I felt God’s call to continue in ministry among people living with HIV, so I reached out to Minnkota Health Project, a volunteer-led program that offers support groups and food assistance to HIV-positive individuals living in rural Minnesota and North Dakota.

Many of the group participants struggle daily with isolation, depression and chemical dependency. Some mourn loved ones who have died. Others have been rejected by their families because of their HIV status and sexual orientation. They come to the monthly meetings for the support and compassion that they cannot find anywhere else.Christmas Gift group from St. Mark's in Minnkota

This year, St. Mark’s Lutheran Church received a Domestic Hunger Grant from ELCA World Hunger to provide grocery gift cards for Minnkota group members. Many of the group members lack the resources needed to cover the cost of rent, food, utilities, and medical expenses. For them, the assistance makes a tangible difference.

At their monthly meetings, I try to offer a sympathetic ear and a personal connection to St. Mark’s community. This Christmas season, congregation members are providing gifts to individuals in the group. When I asked our congregation for help, their response was immediate.

December 1, 2018, marks the thirtieth year of observing World AIDS Day, a day to remember those who have lost their lives, celebrate the progress that has been made in addressing HIV and AIDS, and to re-commit ourselves to the work that still needs to be done to reduce the prevalence of HIV and AIDS and accompany our neighbors who are living with HIV and AIDS. The people of St. Mark’s and the participants and volunteers in the Minnkota Health Project, work together to find light in the midst of the darkest nights. Their faces reflect the light of God that shines in the darkness. And the darkness has not overcome it.


Consider including pieces from the World AIDS Day worship resource in your liturgy on Sunday, December 2. You can find the ELCA World AIDS Day worship resource, bulletin inserts and more at ELCA. org/HIV.


You can advocate for policies and programs that support prevention, testing, treatment and other important services for people living with HIV. Take action today to advocate for programs that support global health, including PEPFAR and the Global Fund.


Through your gifts, ELCA World Hunger provides crucial support to ministries like St. Mark’s grocery gift card program for Minnkota members. You can support this important work by making a gift for HIV and AIDS ministries through ELCA World Hunger.



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.