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Living with HIV: The Rev. Shane Stanford



For years, Shane Stanford lived with a secret. When Stanford graduated from seminary and told people he was HIV-positive, even churches turned their backs. The experience tested the young pastor's faith. Today Stanford is a husband, father of three and a best-selling author, radio host and lead pastor of a large church. His story of turning fear and rejection into a positive life continues to inspire.

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(Locator: Memphis, Tenn.)

"Here in Memphis, we do have the 7th highest rate of HIV infection and the number of cases of full-blown AIDS of any city in the United States."

"I'm Shane Stanford. I'm the senior pastor of Christ United Methodist Church in Memphis, Tennessee."

"Being an HIV positive individual myself, my ministry has been so connected to the HIV/AIDS community. I was born a hemophiliac, but I found out that I was HIV positive at the age of 16."

"We knew that the medicines that were used to treat my hemophilia had been contaminated with HIV."

"In 1986, I checked in for surgery and when they tested me they discovered that I was HIV-positive. And we didn't tell anybody for years and years because there were families in Florida, the Ray family in particular, who were hemophiliacs. They burned their house down when the community realized that they were living there. And you had Ryan White who was, you know, very famous because he had been kicked out of school. I was scared because we did not know how neighbors and how people would respond. So we kept it to ourselves. The only person that I did tell was the girl that I was dating at the time. I expected her to shy away and say, 'I can't see you any longer.' And she did the opposite. We grew closer. And eventually at 19 we married. And she's my wife today and the mother of my 3 children. We just sort of lived our lives. Graduated from high school, went to college, went to seminary. And I did not tell anyone until I had to fill out a health form in order to be ordained. And that's when I had to make it public. And so when I made it public, it became an issue for ordination, you know, having to check off what it meant for the church to take responsibility for my health care long term. It was a big, big deal to ordain me. And we got through that and thought we had dodged another bullet. But the first church to which they appointed me as pastor out of seminary wouldn't take me because of my health condition."

"I wasn't so much upset with God as much as with God's people. You know, we talked a good talk, but when it came down to really, you know, putting our love and our compassion where our words were, I didn't experience that. I experienced fear."

(Stanford preaches) "Do you know what the number one issue facing families today is? Uncertainty. Anybody in here have trouble sleeping when you're uncertain?"

"There was no question about my theological preparedness, about my heart, about my calling. But that was back in a day when fear got the best of us. It got the best of us as an entire church. And it was doing that with so many denominations. So I struggled for a while. But on the other side of that, God would raise up these men and women who were standing in the gap for me. And I didn't even know it - people who were taking up the mantle at the Board of Ministry meeting and becoming my champions, and bishops who were willing to appoint me no matter what. And thankfully a church in Hattiesburg, Mississippi, a lady that had been a family friend gave the money to fund my associate's position. And so I was appointed there as the associate pastor for 2 years, and the rest, as they say, is history."

(Stanford preaches) "He says, 'What is the Kingdom of God really like?'"

"I am the author of several books. And that's a new part of my ministry. A Positive Life is my memoir. And people have connected to that work because of the story, to hear the story of a person who seems fairly normal - whatever normal may be - with a wife and kids and a job and all of the other stressors that go along with life, also living as an HIV-positive person. It's been a great way for people here at Christ Church to be able to know who I am."

Christina White, Member, Christ United Methodist Church: "He deals with it every single day. And so he can have that personal message like, 'You can get through this. You're going to have your good days and your bad days, but I'm living it right now. So trust me when I say, the Lord can help you get through this.'"

Cole Taylor, Member, Christ United Methodist Church: "He's got a special place in his heart for families and for people who are sick. A lot of pastors I'm sure do, but I think that just gives him a unique quality. It changed his heart probably in a way that a lot of people don't have because of what he's lived."

(Stanford preaches) "I will not live long if I do not take that shot of insulin every day. I take that shot because there's something happening inside me that I can't do for myself. Sound familiar?"

"I serve on the committee that oversees the United Methodist Global AIDS Fund."

"We are very blessed in the United States. We do have access to health care and to appropriate medicines. But if you go into the developing world, not only do they not have the appropriate medicines, but they don't have the right food to eat in order to take the medicines if they had it. In many places around the world the more poor you are, the more chance you are to be HIV positive and the worse that condition will be for you. And so as United Methodists, particularly as we are bringing innew members just by the thousands around the world, it is our responsibility to be able to help provide the health care and the availability of assistance. Particularly for people who are HIV-positive, many of them, many of us, have lost family and friends because of the disease. And so the church, the community of the church, is all the more important that it be faithful and that they can experience that welcome and that hospitality here


Stanford is the author of 11 books and also hosts a weekly radio program.

For more information, contact Christ United Methodist Church at 901-683-3521 or visit Shane Stanford's Making Life Matter website.

Posted: November 30, 2011