At least half of all AIDS victims are doomed to die of the disease, and all are doomed to public ostracism while they live. Many find no refuge even in their church.
That refuge was offered to some AIDS patients last Sunday at St. Paul's Episcopal Church in Tustin, in the first Episcopal Mass in Orange County's history for the victims of AIDS. It was a bold move for Bishop Oliver B. Garver, the Rev. John R. Edwards Jr., the Rev. John M. Krumm and the congregation in the conservative community.
The Mass was more than an expression of love and concern for AIDS victims. The church was also sending a message: Replace ignorance and fear with understanding and compassion.
Edwards, calling AIDS the "20th-Century leprosy," said that even in a well-educated congregation, "where the unknown is involved, there is no guarantee that rationality will hold sway."
Krumm, describing the way in which AIDS victims are being evicted from apartments, fired from jobs and often left to die alone, said in his sermon that in addition to being a public health crisis the "problem is also one of an appalling lack of humanitarian concern" toward AIDS victims. He criticized Southern religious leaders who have condemned homosexuals and opposed medical care for AIDS victims.
Garver said that the church was trying to "reach out to people to become involved with religious concern toward the AIDS victim."
What they, along with the 175 parishioners who attended, were saying is that a church must do more than preach the virtues of compassion. It must be specific. It must care, and show it, regardless of how controversial that may be.
The St. Paul's special service was specific, and caring. It should also be a model for congregations of all faiths.