In the 1980’s and early 90’s, when AIDS was still a scandal to many people, a modern leprosy, popularly associated with promiscuous homosexual activity, although we knew it was acquired by other means as well, a church invited AIDS Burlington to use their facilities without charge for their regular and special meetings. AIDS Burlington consisted of people with AIDS, their friends, partners, and families, public health workers, and other interested and compassionate people who wanted to work together to learn how to respond personally, medically, educationally, and politically. They needed to meet regularly and have safe space to talk confidentially as well as space to present information to the public as it became available. They had no funds for these purposes, especially when medical bills were already overwhelming.
The church consistory discussed the possibilities. Outsiders might consider this church a sponsor of the activities associated with AIDS, instead of a giver of hospitality to people in need. We might receive threats from extremists. People might avoid our building, thinking it was contaminated. AIDS sufferers and their families might want to come to worship or take part in other activities, which could be a benefit to them, or it could drive other people away, who were afraid of contact with them. Not much helpful information was available for the first few years and misinformation was rampant. It was such a small thing to give space and to be present with the people who were trying to confront the medical and social problems that came with AIDS. Should we hide from those who needed our help?
The church offered space and the offer was accepted. For a few years, when several members of the community and their families were dealing with the AIDS crisis, before there was any systematic treatment or undisputed public information, AIDS Burlington were our guests, and they were both appreciative and respectful guests, who, as usual, gave at least as much to us as we gave to them. Some of those who able to survive and those who had to say farewell to their loved ones became a part of ‘us.’
We faced some of the unwelcome responses we feared, but never enough to make us regret the decision that we had made.