John Peterson – Secretary General of the Anglican Consultative Council
The Anglican journey began really in Kanuga when Archbishop Njongonkulu Ndungane from Cape Town and Rev Gideon Byamugisha from Uganda first presented the Primates with HIV/AIDS statistics and called on the church to become actively involved in addressing the pandemic. Up till then, although individual churches had been involved in initiatives aimed at tackling the disease, there was no co-ordinated Anglican HIV/AIDS effort.
At this meeting the Archbishop of Canterbury, together with his fellow Archbishops, tasked Archbishop Ndungane of Cape Town with the responsibility of developing a communion-wide understanding of the scope of the HIV/AIDS pandemic in Africa and making HIV/AIDS a top priority for the church.
On his return to South Africa, Archbishop Ndungane’s first task was to bring together the leadership of the African Churches through the Council of Anglican Provinces in Africa (CAPA) to determine the breadth and scope of the pandemic - as well as the responses to be made. As a result, the All Africa Anglican Conference on HIV/AIDS was held in August 2001 in Boksburg, South Africa. Church leaders from over 33 African nations attended as well as participants from every region of the Anglican Communion.
This conference completely changed the role of the Anglican Communion in response to HIV/AIDS. The statement that came out of Boksburg, “We, the Anglican Communion across Africa, pledge ourselves to the promise that future generations will be born and live in a world free from AIDS” gave the church the mandate it had been seeking and helped support the development of HIV/AIDS desks in each Anglican province in Africa.
What’s more, the fact that the issue of stigma was raised and dealt with in a very forthright manner, made it compelling for the church to find ways of incorporating HIV/AIDS into their ministries. The statement, “Stigma is a denial that we are created in the image of God. It destroys self-esteem, decimates families, disrupts communities and annihilates hope for future generations. We commit in all our efforts – personal and corporate, programmatic and liturgical – to confront stigma as sin and work for its end,” is very powerful and went some way in addressing the painfully slow progress that the church had made in putting HIV/AIDS on her agenda.
As a result of the conference, people began to see the urgency of the situation and the dialogue around the disease hasn’t stopped.
The Primates' meeting in Canterbury in April 2002 issued a ground-breaking statement that, “HIV/AIDS is not a punishment from God”. This was the third stop on the Anglican HIV/AIDS journey and could only have taken place after months of visionary work by committed individuals.
Feedback regarding the position taken by the Anglican Church has been enormous and among faith organisations there is greater awareness of HIV/AIDS than ever before. And there’s greater commitment in finding solutions to the problems communities face.
A process like this, however, takes an enormous amount of energy. It’s one thing paying lip service to a problem – it’s another translating words to action. The fact that this plan was driven by the Anglican Church in South Africa was significant and Archbishop Njongonkulu Ndungane of Cape Town and Bishop Johannes Seoka of Pretoria gave this initiative the support it needed to get off the ground. The real engine driving it, however, was Rev Canon Ted Karpf who has invested an enormous amount of energy into the HIV/AIDS effort in Africa.
Because of the commitment on the part of so many people, the Anglican Communion is stronger today because of the vision that someday in Africa there will be, “a generation free of AIDS”.