As the small congregation set foot into the sanctuary of First Congregational United Church of Christ Monday night, everyone received a bulletin and a white, worn candle.
Rev. Caela Simmons Wood welcomed the community to her service, which was in honor of World AIDS Day, and recognized the progress that has been made in reducing the spread of HIV and AIDS – as well as what still needs to be done.
According to Wood and the World Health Organization, fewer babies are being born with HIV, global HIV infection rates are declining and treatment is reaching 11.7 million people in low and middle income countries.
“Even though new HIV infections have dropped by 38 percent since 2001, 2.1 million people were newly infected in 2013,” Wood said. “There are still 22 million people who are not accessing life saving treatment and that includes 2 million children.”
Kevin Stilley, secretary and treasurer for the Junction City Teddy Bears, delivered a reflection during the service in which he discussed the issues at hand, his own personal struggle with AIDS, and what we can do to further progress. JCTB is a homosexual male social group that serves the Flint Hills community.
“We can encourage our legislators to continue to fund treatment programs so that treatment is available to every single person who needs it,” Stilley said, “Stand up to ignorance by speaking out and educating friends and family members that HIV is no more contagious than cancer.”
Stilley insisted that an essential part of HIV prevention is educating our youth.
“It is very clear that abstinence-only sex education programs do not work,” Stilley said. “Our nation’s young people need to be taught how to protect themselves and why it is so important to do so.”
After the reflection, candles were lit that represented compassion, safety, knowledge and hope. During a moment of silence, congregation members were given the chance to say aloud the names of loved ones who had passed or who were diagnosed with HIV or AIDS.
The hymns “We Cannot Own the Sunlit Sky,” and “We Shall Overcome,” were sung and a reception followed the service.
This year’s theme for World AIDS Day was “Focus, Partner, Achieve: An AIDS-free Generation.”
This week, information about HIV and AIDS will be available at a table in the K-State Student Union. The table will also be selling tickets for the Red Ribbon Ball, which will be hosted in Pottorf Hall at Cico Park on Dec. 6 from 7-10:30 p.m., for $5 per person and $8 per couple.
“It’s kind of like prom for couples who couldn’t attend their high school prom because of same-sex rules,” said Alaina Littlejohn, junior in animal sciences and industry and K-State LGBT and Allies vice president.
All of the Red Ribbon Ball proceeds go to the HIV/AIDS Client Fund administered by Junction City Teddy Bears.