Food and worship together form an ideal way of breaking the silence on HIV, the (Presbyterian) Church of Scotland's General Assembly meeting in Edinburgh has been told.
The Church of Scotland HIV Programme was introduced to the Assembly, the Kirk's national decision-making body, by World Mission Council vice-convenor Shirley Brown, as part of the World Mission report on Wednesday 25 May 2011.
It began as the HIV/AIDS Project, and changed to the Programme at the beginning of 2011. It raises funds to support projects worldwide helping people living with HIV and AIDS.
Its commitment also involves promoting open discussion and acknowledgment of the issues surrounding HIV, in the face of prejudice and anxiety.
Donations passed £1 million towards the end of 2010. This sum has been raised since 2002, when the Kirk's Project began, by churches, congregations, Guilds and individuals, through a whole range of fund-raising activities, including sponsored bike rides, ceilidhs, and also 'Souper Sunday' - held in January each year. It is a special day focusing on HIV and food.
The Christian gospel gives a special place to the sharing of meals and hospitality as a vehicle for God's transforming grace, say 'Souper Sunday' advocates. Mrs Brown encouraged the church at all levels to engage actively with initiatives of this kind.
"HIV continues to be both a cause and consequence not just of ill-health and death, but also of poverty and lack of development around the world," says the Programme's website. "With five people infected with HIV and three dying of AIDS every minute, every day, the need is obvious."
"Our belief in a God of love who holds in unity both compassion and justice leads us to act in the interests of those who live with HIV. So the Church of Scotland continues its essential work of raising urgently needed funds for its HIV work."
Drugs to tackle HIV treatment come through the global fund to countries where people are affected. But there is a need, the Assembly heard, to back the fund and ensure that governments come up with the necessary funds to make it work - as well as to challenge pharmaceutical companies in particular circumstances where vital drugs are not getting to those in need because of profit-oriented pricing mechanisms.
Other concerns raised from the floor of the Assembly in relation to the World Mission Council's report included the need to support Christians in Pakistan in the face of growing religious fundamentalism, and the continuing need to build relations with the churches in China and in Russia.
The Scottish Churches China Group (SCCG) was commended for its work. Its convenor described the difficulties it had encountered in recent years, and the more recent renewal of its contribution to raising awareness and partnership of "the thrilling growth of the church in China".
Health projects, assisting Catholic relations, Bible printing inside China (now up to 80 million copies through the Amity Printing Press), and the 25th anniversary of the Amity Foundation's important cultural and social work are among the areas of concern that the SCCG has worked on over the past year.
* Church of Scotland HIV Programme: http://www.churchofscotland.org.uk/speak_out/hiv_programme
* 'Souper Sunday': http://www.soupersunday.info/
* Church of Scotland World Mission Council: http://www.churchofscotland.org.uk/home
* Scottish Churches China Group: http://sccg.org.uk/
* Amity 25th Anniversary Celebrations: http://www.amityfoundation.org/wordpress/2010/11/amity-25th-anniversary-...