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The UMC, CAM and Me

by Richard B. Cory

July 26, 1995

Photo of Richard and FamilyRichard B., Cathie, and Alex Cory, and the Rev. Larry Lenow.

In 1986 my wife, Catherine, gave birth to a baby boy. His name is Alexander. The birth was not without complications, because Cathie received a massive blood transfusion. Almost two years later, Cathie donated blood to the American Red Cross. A week or so later, she received a call from the Red Cross asking her to come to their office. When she did, she found out that she was HIV+.

The bad news did not stop there. During Alex's early days of life, Cathie had breast-fed him. After Alex was tested, our worst fears had come true. He was also HIV+.


Why the Computerized AIDS Ministries?

When we first found these things out, we knew nothing about HIV or AIDS. We didn't really know where to turn to or how to get help. The stigma associated with HIV and AIDS made it even harder. We were afraid to let anyone know about our situation for fear that we would become outcasts reminiscent of the lepers of biblical times.

One of the first sources of help that I found was an electronic support bulletin board on a commercial service. Unfortunately, that service soon underwent a restructuring of their billing system which made the use of that support system prohibitively expensive for many users, including myself. Also, persons posted messages that were clearly inconsiderate and not supportive, in some cases perpetuating the ignorance, fear, and bigotry that is still directed towards many people who have been affected by this disease.

As these price changes were about to be implemented, I heard about a new support BBS, Computerized AIDS Ministries (CAM), that was just starting and was free to all users. This news was greeted by many with great hope and enthusiasm.

Often people that I have talked to about CAM don't understand how a computer BBS can provide real support, but it is still one of my best sources of emotional and spiritual support. Below are several advantages of the support system CAM provides:

Because of the stigma associated with AIDS, many people are reluctant to discuss their situation even with close friends and family members. CAM provides a means by which people can openly share their personal story, concerns, express their feelings, and get support from others, while at the same time maintaining their anonymity.

For some people, especially those in more remote areas where support services may be very limited, CAM provides a lifeline by networking people from all over the US, Canada, and Puerto Rico. More recently, with the addition of Internet access, people from all over the world can call CAM. This gives many people access to valuable information, ideas, and opinions that they would not otherwise have available.

A Sense of Family

CAM also provides a safe haven to users where "loving support and compassion" are the key words. Although open discussion over a wide range of topics are encouraged and sometimes differences of opinion become obvious, personal attacks on people and hateful unsupportive messages are not tolerated. This makes CAM an even nicer place to visit.

Quite possibly the greatest achievement on CAM is the sense of family and belonging that it provides for active participants. Many people here on CAM don't have an immediate family to rely on. Even those of us who have a family have come to think of our friends on CAM as members of our family. When one person gets bad news or experiences a loss, we all share in that loss. When someone experiences a triumph, we all rejoice in their good fortune.

CAM has become an integral part of my life. If I was to lose the support of my friends on CAM, it would be as though I lost my own brothers and sisters. If I had to describe CAM with a single word, that word would be "Love."

The United Methodist Church and Me

Until recently, I had not been a member of a church for many years. During the early years after I learned about the HIV status of my family, I found churches to be unsupportive. For example, Alex has been refused at two church-run schools because of his HIV status. Experiences such as these, coupled with the attitude of some self- proclaimed religious leaders that AIDS is a plague sent by God to punish the evil sinners, drove me even further from religion.

Throughout my adult life I have denied my spiritual needs, proclaiming that the church is the centerpiece of hypocrisy. My contact with the United Methodist Church through CAM has changed my spiritual outlook and opened my mind and heart to Christ. While there is no attempt made at CAM to preach or moralize, the love and faith that is found here shines like a beacon.

A couple of years ago I joined a Christian support group called the Friends and Family of People with AIDS. Then my friend who started this group experienced problems at her church after she told the congregation that she was running this group and that her brother had AIDS. So she decided to try a United Methodist Church where she already knew the pastor. When my friend invited our family to attend the church to hear her daughter sing a solo, we didn't hesitate.

After just one visit, we felt so warmly welcomed that we just kept on going. Just a short time later, we decided to officially become members of The United Methodist Church. Since then, Alex has become an acolyte and I have become a choir member as well as a solo vocalist. Cathie and I celebrated our tenth anniversary by sharing the renewal of our wedding vows with our new church family.

Conclusion

There are many who have told me how unlucky I must be because of the misfortune that has befallen my family. I say to them that the exact opposite is true. Despite the adversity that I have been forced to face, I have found two new and wonderful families, CAM and the United Methodist Church, who have helped me to get through some rough times and celebrated with me in the good times. With the help and influence of these families, I have rediscovered my faith in humanity and in Christ. What greater gift could I be given?

Richard B. Cory, rbcory@cox.net
Chesapeake, VA, July 26, 1995