This weekend, Church of Scotland congregations around the world are highlighting the global HIV and AIDS pandemic in their morning services and encouraging people to support practical action at grassroots level.
On “Souper Sunday” (10 January 2009), over 250 churches are expected to hold a simple soup and sandwich lunch after worship, with all proceeds going to support the work of Church of Scotland HIV/AIDS Project’s partners around the world.
Participants stretch from the most northerly mainland parish in Scotland, Keiss, Dunnet and Canisbay in Caithness Presbytery, down to Dunscore in Dumfries and Galloway. Kirks in Sri Lanka, London and Israel have also pledged their support.
The Moderator of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland, the Rt Rev Bill Hewitt, explained: “By equipping parish leaders at local, regional and national levels, we hope congregations can better understand the issues around HIV in Scotland and [this] would allow the church to care and support more effectively.”
A recent UNAIDS report showed that although over 30 million people globally are living with HIV, new infections over an eight-year period were down 17 per cent, with partnership programmes focusing on prevention.
Stigmatisation and discrimination against those with the virus remains a real challenge, even in Scotland. Findings from the People Living With HIV Stigma Index 2009, published last month, show that almost two-thirds of people with HIV and AIDS in the UK have low self-esteem, and a quarter have said they feel suicidal.
Mr Hewitt continued: “Churches overseas have already begun to realise the pivotal role they can play in their own communities in the areas of education, counselling, care and support, and I hope that the Kirk can begin to grapple with this.
He added: ”While congregations are always generous in supporting work abroad, there may still be a lack of awareness about what lies on our own doorstep. Souper Sunday can help to raise money as well as this awareness”.
Three former Kirk Moderators will also be preaching – the Very Rev David Lunan at Banton and Twechar, Kilsyth, the Very Rev John Miller at Tron St Mary’s in Glasgow, and the Very Rev David Lacey in Kilmarnock.