The Rev. Shane Stanford: Living with HIV

The Rev. Shane Stanford: Living with HIV

January 14, 2020 1 By Jose Scott


(blues music) (Shane Stanford) Here in Memphis
we do have the 7th highest rate of HIV infection and actually
the number of cases of full-blown AIDS of any
city in the United States. I’m Shane Stanford. I’m the senior pastor of Christ
United Methodist Church in Memphis, Tennessee. Being an HIV positive
individual myself, my ministry has been so connected to
the HIV/AIDS community. Go. Go and be whoever God
has called you to be. I was born a hemophiliac
but I found out that I was HIV positive at the age of 16. We knew that the medicines that
were used to treat my hemophilia had been contaminated with HIV. In 1986, I checked in for
surgery, and when they tested me they discovered that
I was HIV- positive. And we didn’t tell anybody for
years and years because there were families in Florida, the
Ray family in particular, who were hemophiliacs. They burned their house down
when the community realized that they were living there. And you had Ryan White who
was, you know, very famous because he had been
kicked out of school. I was scared because we
did not know how neighbors and how people would respond. So we kept it to ourselves. The only person that I did tell
was the girl that I was dating at the time. I expected her to shy
away and say “I can’t
see you any longer.” And she did the opposite.
We grew closer. And eventually at 19 we married. And she’s my wife today and
the mother of my 3 children. We just sort of lived our lives. Graduated from high school, went
to college, went to seminary. And I did not tell anyone until
I had to fill out a health form in order to be ordained. And that’s when I had
to make it public. And so when I made it public, it
became an issue for ordination, you know, having to check off
what it meant for the church to take responsibility for
my health care long term. It was a big, big
deal to ordain me. And we got through that
and thought we had dodged another bullet. But the first church to which
they appointed me as pastor out of seminary wouldn’t take me
because of my health condition. (Shane Stanford) I wasn’t so
much upset with God as much as with God’s people. You know, we talked a good talk,
but when it came down to really, you know, putting our love and
our compassion where our words were, I didn’t experience that. Do you know what the number one
issue facing families today is? Uncertainty. Anybody in here have trouble
sleeping when you’re uncertain? There was no question about
my theological preparedness, about my heart,
about my calling. But that was back in a day
when fear got the best of us. It got the best of us
as an entire church. And it was doing that with
so many denominations. So I struggled for a while. But on the other side of that
God would raise up these men and women who were standing
in the gap for me. And I didn’t even know it-people
who were taking up the mantle at the Board of Ministry meeting
and becoming my champions, and bishops who were willing to
appoint me no matter what. And thankfully a church in
Hattiesburg, Mississippi, a lady that had been a family
friend gave the money to fund my associate’s position. And so I was appointed there
as the associate pastor for 2 years, and the rest, as
they say, is history. He says, “What is the
Kingdom of God really like?” I am the author
of several books. And that’s a new
part of my ministry. A Positive Life is my memoir. And people have connected to
that work because of the story, to hear the story of a person
who seems fairly normal (whatever normal may be) with a
wife and kids and a job and all of the other stressors
that go along with life, also living as an
HIV-positive person. It’s been a great way for
people here at Christ Church to be able to know who I am. (Christina White) He deals
with it every single day. And so he can have that personal
message like, “You know, you’re gonna have your good
days and your bad days, but I’m living it right now. So trust me when I say, the Lord
can help you get through this.” (Cole Taylor) He’s got a special
place in his heart for families and for people who are sick. A lot of pastors I’m sure do,
but I think that just gives him a unique quality. It changed his heart probably in
a way that a lot of people don’t have because of what he’s lived. (Shane Stanford) I will not
live long if I don’t have that shot of insulin every day. I take that shot because there’s
something happening inside me that I can’t do for myself. Sound familiar? I serve on the
committee that oversees the United Methodist
Global AIDS Fund. We are very blessed
in the United States. We do have access to health care
and to appropriate medicines. But if you go into the
developing world not only do they not have the appropriate
medicines, but they don’t have the right food to eat in
order to take the medicines if they had it. In many places around the
world the more poor you are, the more chance you are to be
HIV positive and the worse that condition will be for you. And so as United Methodists,
particularly as we are bringing in, you know, new members just
by the thousands around the world, it is our responsibility
to be able to help provide the health care and just the
availability of assistance. Particularly for people who are
HIV-positive, many of them, many of us, have lost family and
friends because of the disease. And so the church, the community
of the church, is all the more important that it be faithful
and that they can experience that welcome and that
hospitality here.