For the past couple weeks, I've been volunteering one day a week at Glide Memorial in their HIV drop-in testing center. I've been shadowing certified HIV counselors so that I can learn the skills necessary to conduct my own counseling sessions once I attend the formal training. Its been an infinitely interesting time thus far. I've learned so much. And I'm genuinely happy to be there and to help out however I can. I haven't felt truly happy about a line of "work" since my athletic training days.
About two weeks ago, the parish pastors came up to the clinic to get HIV tests and take a few pictures that would be shown on the big screen at Celebration (their word for Sunday "mass" or "service"). The idea was to talk about testing and how easy and painless it is in front of the whole congregation...to let everyone know that Glide offers more than a great church experience and a free meal. We would then offer the rapid tests right after Celebration to whomever wanted one. The pastors figured that it would be a good way to show people that the tests aren't scary and that knowing one's HIV status is important.
You see, Glide isn't like any regular church. They don't care what your religious affiliation is, who you share your bed with, if you've had substance abuse issues, if you've got no place to call home, if you've had a shower in the last month, or what gender you identify with. Everyone is welcome with open arms and without judgment. Their message of radical inclusiveness is evident in every program they offer, not just in the church side of things. The message is spiritual and non-denominational. Its really an amazing place.
Anyway, today was the day for the pictures to be shown and for testing. I arrived not knowing what to expect, but was quickly pulled into the positive feeling of the people I spoke with. I attended Celebration, which is the first time I've stepped foot in a church in probably seven or eight years. I'm not exactly what you'd call a church-going kind of gal. But that's probably because I'd never been to this particular church.
Imagine a full band, a choir of about 30 people front and center on the stage and pews packed with smiling faces. Then, the singing started. There was SO. MUCH. SINGING. And clapping. And dancing. And joy...180 degrees from the regimented, terribly stoic Catholic church services I've attended previously. I've honestly never had so much fun at church.
The pastors kept the talking and preaching to a minimum. They'd say a few sentences that were inspiring without being all "Praise Jesus!!", and then the choir, composed of ALL kinds of people, would start again. And then the congregation would stand and the clapping, dancing, and singing would start up again as well. Even though I didn't know the songs, I clapped and shifted my weight from side to side in time with the beat just the same. I'd say more than 75% of the Celebration consisted of singing and dancing.
There were technical issues that prevented the pictures we'd taken previously from being shown, but the director of HIV services conducted a rapid test on one of the pastors stage instead. The Celebration finished with a sermon from a trans-gender pastor and a few announcements from drag queens about the Glide float for next weekend's Pride Parade.
All told, we tested about fifteen people today. But hundreds heard the announcement that Glide offers free confidential testing five days a week. Hopefully, the numbers at the walk-in clinic will increase next week. I shook lots of hands, gave lots of hugs and smiled more than I have in a long time. The positivity was absolutely contagious.
From what I understand, I'm very lucky to have scored a volunteer position here as there are always a TON of people wanting to help. I am also hoping to help out in the medical part of the clinic soon, as the skills I already possess could be put to immediate use with minimal training. We'll see, though. For now, I'm just happy to be there learning and doing whatever I can...