Church becomes leader in mobilizing others

When a Nashville, TN, church spreads the word about HIV/AIDS education, the repercussions can be felt hundreds of miles away.

The Metropolitan Interdenominational Church mobilizes churches in Tennessee, Alabama, and elsewhere to offer their congregations and communities education, information, and understanding about HIV and AIDS.

"We feel that if you’re going to mobilize faith communities, then you need the leaders themselves to be equipped and knowledgeable about all aspects of HIV and the new developments that surround HIV prevention," says Jacqueline Fleming Hampton, PhD, capacity building and evaluation coordinator of the Metropolitan Interdenominational Church — Technical Assistance Network (MICTAN).

With funding from the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) of Atlanta, for capacity building, the MICTAN program has held workshops for pastors and deacons and has been contacted in the past three years by more than 80 churches requesting technical assistance, she says.

While MICTAN is available to provide assistance to organizations that contact the CDC, most of its work has been proactive, Hampton adds. "We build a lot of grass-roots organizations that are not funded at all, and we see them get funding. We provide technical assistance so that they can posture themselves to reach more individuals."

Sometimes MICTAN’s efforts result in small changes, such as a church that now makes HIV pamphlets available to parishioners, when previously the church never addressed the subject. Churches also have held mini-health fairs where HIV is featured, and church choirs are beginning to sing healing music for their congregations. "We did a major community mobilization event where we had singer Richard Smallwood and the Nashville Community Choir," Hampton recalls. "As a result of that, some churches have begun to identify music they can use as healing songs for their congregations."

In other cases, MICTAN has lit a spark under other churches, encouraging them to take a leadership role in addressing HIV education in their communities. For instance, a physician who learned about MICTAN through a Metropolitan church member visited the Metropolitan Interdenominational Church First Response Center to ask for help in providing an HIV prevention and education workshop through his Montgomery, AL, church, she says.

"Individuals will call us because we may have been at a conference, doing a major paper or presentation, or talking about how to mobilize," Hampton explains. "Our presence also has ignited ministers to become part of community planning groups, when they normally would not have even known about the group."

Here are some of the programs and assistance offered by MICTAN:

  • Workshops and conferences

MICTAN held a two-day clergy forum and deacon leadership conference in Montgomery in which more than 50 people attended. The program also has held summer workshops for faith-based organizations. These workshops cover community resource development, community needs, and mobilization work.

  • Technical assistance upon request

MICTAN staff teach other organizations how to develop infrastructure, conduct a community needs assessment, create community awareness, develop networks, establish linkages, and make HIV policy, Hampton points out. Other services include providing skills building, information transfer, technical consultations, and MICTAN will develop brochures and other educational materials for organizations that are inexperienced with this, she says.

  • Cultural sensitivity

MICTAN staff teach ministers and others how people with HIV and AIDS may look like a lot like themselves and people in their congregation.

"In our presentations, we make a concerted effort to let individuals know this is not a gay disease, and gay-bashing will not be the solution to the problem," Hampton adds.

"We want them to understand how behavior [affects] the probability of contracting HIV, and it’s not the church wall that protects you from this," she says. "You have to dig deeper and realize that there are other core issues that put a person into a situation where they become involved in risky sexual behavior, and there is no way to look out at your congregation and identify who is [HIV]-positive and who isn’t."

  • Testing counseling certification training

MICTAN provides a pre- and post-test counseling and certification training program in which ministers are trained to counsel people about HIV at the time of the HIV test.

The program is offered to small groups and includes training with the rapid HIV test, Hampton says.