UMTV: Church Erases AIDS Stigma
In some U.S. cities, the rate of those living with HIV/AIDS matches that of some African nations. That places Asbury United Methodist Church in Atlantic City in the epicenter of what remains an epidemic in 2013. And the congregation is committed to embracing those living with the disease.
(Atlantic City, New Jersey)
(Rev. Williams from pulpit) "Let us reach out and touch one another in the name of Jesus Christ on this day as we celebrate World AIDS Day."
Each December, members of Asbury United Methodist Church in Atlantic City, New Jersey mark World AIDS Day.
Carolyn Bishop: "This has re-awakened something in me that the fight is not over."
(Rev. Williams preaching) "We affirm the responsibility of the church to minister to and with these individuals and their families regardless of how the disease was contracted."
Asbury's leader, the Reverend William Williams III, worked in an AIDS research facility before becoming a pastor, so he has a unique perspective and compassion for those who feel isolated by the disease.
The Rev. William Williams III, Asbury United Methodist Church: "I was stigmatized, to some degree, because when people found out that I worked with HIV/AIDS. I could see a change in their persona. So, I've always had a very strong attachment to the AIDS epidemic because I know scientifically its effect on the body and I know firsthand the stigma that it brings."
(Mayor speaks at church service) "We came here..."
Atlantic City's mayor says that 20 years ago, Asbury stepped up when no other church in town was willing to open its doors to support those with AIDS.
Carolyn Bishop finds comfort in this congregation. She lost a family member, a boyfriend, and a close friend to AIDS.
Carolyn Bishop, Asbury United Methodist Church: "Asbury has always been a church connecting with people who were disconnected from others. They were one of the first churches to embrace people who had a history of alcohol and drugs and were in recovery; open the church to people who were homeless; open the church to people who had AIDS. And not just opened them by saying, 'Come in,' because anybody can say that and not mean it, but opened it to the point where they allowed them to come in and become somebody."
Tasha Williams, Asbury United Methodist Church: "It's about embracing everyone despite nationality or health issues, whether they're obvious or not obvious. Just embracing everyone."
John McQueen recalls an HIV-positive friend who felt accepted here.
John McQueen, Asbury United Methodist Church: "When I saw her that Sunday, I gave her a hug and a kiss. I told her to talk to the pastor and she spoke with him. Asbury came through. There was no difference. She was treated, she was loved."
Asbury is surrounded by casinos and commercialism. The South Jersey AIDS Alliance says the HIV prevalence rate here is 1 in 50.
HIV thrives in cities with high drug use, poverty and homelessness.
(Dunn speaks at church service) "She was a mother of six."
Member Ronald Dunn blames drug use for his sister contracting AIDS.
Ronald J. Dunn, Asbury United Methodist Church "Although we tried to embrace her, she did her own thing and eventually AIDS overcame her. She was only 41 when she passed away."
(Volunteers serve meal) "Do you want three on one?"
Once a week, 300 people sit together and share a meal as part of Asbury's "Touch Ministry" --another way this church reaches out to those who may feel alone.
The Rev. William Williams: "We really do believe those on the margins, those who are ostracized, can be part of promoting, spreading and being agents of God's mission in the world. We truly are a church with open hearts, open doors and open minds."
For more information on Asbury United Methodist, you may call the church at 609-348-1941.
Learn more about the United Methodist Global AIDS Fund.