In response to the global HIV/AIDS crisis, the African Methodist Episcopal Church (A.M.E.) has commissioned Payne Theological Seminary to equip all A.M.E. church leaders with knowledge about the pandemic disease. The legislation was passed at the denominations 50th Quadrennial Session of the General Conference held July 6-13 at the Pennsylvania Convention Center in Philadelphia.
Payne’s President, Rev. Dr. Michael J. Brown said, “The mandatory legislation will be extended throughout the entire A.M.E. Church network.”
The institutionalized policy is expected to help leaders become effective in reducing HIV/AIDS in the communities they serve through awareness, collaborative resources and routine HIV testing.
Brown acknowledged some clergy may initially balk at the mandatory training. “That’s expected,” he said. “However, at Payne Theological Seminary, we find that once adequately informed, leaders embrace the urgency to develop and sustain effective ministry action to reduce HIV/AIDS.”
The need to train clergy and officer leaders to understand HIV/AIDS is similar to the mandatory sexual harassment training organized by leadership for Episcopal Districts, Annual Conferences and events.
There will be no cost for participants. Content material and expert facilitators will be obtained at no charge from the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and by using the resources and expertise of local health departments and nonprofit organizations.
Since 2008, Rev. Dr. Oveta Fuller, a University of Michigan microbiologist and virologist has been educating Payne’s ministerial leaders about HIV/AIDS and its impact on families and communities through the CM243 course, “What Effective Clergy Must Know about HIV/AIDS, a Global Perspective.” It focuses on a biological understanding of HIV as a relatively weak virus whose infection can lead to AIDS.
As an outcome, hundreds of Payne graduates are equipped to combat the myths and stereotypes surrounding the disease. Fuller said students leave the class liberated, and knowing that HIV/AIDS is not a very strong virus. “It’s weak– quite limited in how it can be transmitted. In fact, the common cold is much stronger,” she said.
She added, “The transmission of HIV/AIDS should no longer be a judgement against someone. “It’s not a moral issue. It’s an infectious disease that can be contained. Combatting it is doable.”
Brown and Fuller hope the new legislation involving clergy will allow the world to take a giant leap toward an HIV-free generation cure. In the meantime, they are encouraging everyone to get tested, talk about HIV to others and include it in church or community health ministries.