One of the things that never ceases to amaze me about church life is that we do something which seems quite amazing but then so quickly just move on to the next thing, and never really find time to reflect on what we've just done. In my other job at BlueArc, where I design computer chips, we work on projects that last at least a couple of years and then have plenty of time once a new product is released to have a launch party, read the reviews and think about what we've achieved before there is too much pressure to deliver the next thing. By contrast I got into the Kerith office on Tuesday after a couple of comments on the weekend we were straight into a series of meetings planning the Easter Sunday Baptisms.
Well I'd like to take at least a moment here to record some of my thoughts on what we did last weekend.
For those not there on Saturday we had the Positive HIV/AIDS conference which we hosted in partnership with Tearfund. The main speaker was Kay Warren, wife of Rick Warren of "The Purpose Driven Life" fame and a leading US HIV/AIDS advocate. We had about 350 people attending which was excellent. According to one delegate who works for the United Nations AIDS initiative, and who had flown in from Geneva just to come the conference, it was the largest ever church based HIV/AIDS conference in the UK which is sort of exciting but quite worrying as well. She and all the other delegates I've had personal feedback from (and there have been quite a number) were overwhelmingly positive about how well the conference was run (I was so proud of all that our people did, from the car parking, registration and toilet cleaning to the quality of the worship), the speakers and what they brought in terms of the mix of stories, information on HIV/AIDS and practical ways to get involved and the overwhelming sense of the church waking up to the fact that we can't just ignore the HIV/AIDS pandemic. Very exciting.
On Sunday morning one of the other conference speakers, Patricia Sawo, spoke at our meeting. When you're in charge you always wonder how a visiting speaker will be received, especially when they're HIV positive and the church in our nation hasn't always responded well to people live with HIV. Well I was moved to tears when Patricia went to leave the platform at the end of her message the church pretty much stood as one to applaud her. Again I've had great feedback (check out the comments here and here).
Finally Sunday evening I did an interview with Patrica and Lindsey Reece-Smith of Tearfund unpacking some of the practical questions around what is HIV/AIDS, how do you get it and how can we begin to make a practical response. Again people seemed to find that very useful and a number of people admitted to me how ignorant they were of even the basic facts around HIV - that was certainly where I was six months ago so don't feel bad if that was you too! We'll hopefully make the DVD of the evening, along with the DVDs and CDs of the conference, available as a resource for us to use in the future.
So what do we do next? We're already working on our global response with the research project we are running with Tearfund in Zambia - I hope to have more to report on that in the next couple of months. However, I felt the real challenge of the weekend for us was to consider our local response. At the first level that means us breaking down some of the ignorance and stigma associated with HIV, and to make the Kerith family a place where someone who is HIV positive could be open about their status without fear of being shunned or discriminated against. I feel this weekend has been a big step along that road, although I suspect we've still got a long way to go. However, I also feel we need to start exploring what the support needs are in our community and to find if there are any ways we could practically get involved. I know that Catriona Mitchell and others are beginning to explore that so talk to Catriona if you would like to be involved in that discussion.
So all in all I think it was a very important weekend for us. Another step on our way to becoming an increasingly "come as you are" community of people.
But next weekend is still coming and I'm so excited about what God is going to do on Sunday. I'm praying for many people to make first time commitments and / or decide to get baptised both morning and evening so come full of expectancy. Just don't forget the weekend just gone quite yet!!
Have a great day and be reading the Easter story ready for Sunday.