Towards an HIV competent church : the Hillcrest AIDS Centre, a pioneering faith response to HIV and AIDS in South Africa (1990 TO 2001).
“An HIV competent church” as used by Sue Parry in 2008 refers to an inner and an outer competence required to respond to HIV and AIDS in a “socially relevant,” “culturally appropriate,” and “theologically and technically sound” way. Over the years, the HIV epidemic in different parts of Africa has brought forth unique experiences of how the various churches have engaged with the epidemic, the sharing of which can be a source of learning for churches in other places of the world. The idea of competent churches came from the learning of three decades of such engagement of churches in different parts of the world with the HIV epidemic. However, the response of churches still remains a challenge in many countries even as the HIV prevalence and the effects of HIV and AIDS continues to impact on more and more people across the world. A historical study of church engagement with the HIV epidemic has much to contribute towards inspiring churches to become involved in a relevant way with the realities of HIV and AIDS, at a local, regional and national level. In the context of South Africa, little historical work has been done about the church’s response to the HIV epidemic, particularly in the first phase of the epidemic. This study will explore the journey of the Hillcrest Methodist Church (HMC), during the period 1990 to 2001, particularly through the starting of the Hillcrest AIDS Centre (HAC) which became one of the pioneering faith based responses in South Africa during this phase of the epidemic. In addition, the study has also explored a few aspects about the engagement of the Methodist Church of Southern Africa (MCSA) with the HIV epidemic at a district level in the Natal Coastal District during this period, particularly in the Clerpine circuit (Pinetown region) and at the Connexional level during this period. Briefly, this study looks at how a few passionate people within a church responded to the realities of the HIV epidemic amidst challenging constraints of their times. In a world which is getting busier, where church involvement with social issues is becoming all the more difficult, the history of such a pioneering effort is a source of immense inspiration for churches to define its priorities and be the “salt of the earth.”