Commemorating National Black HIV/AIDS Awareness Day—February 7, 2020
Dedicated Pastor and Committed Congregation Partner with CAMP Rehoboth to Fight AIDS In Western Sussex County’s Black Community
For over seven years, the Rev. Tesha Miller, a native of Sussex County (and Rehoboth Beach), has been pastor at the historic Macedonia AME Church in Seaford, Delaware. The nearly 140-year-old African-American congregation is in the heart of Seaford and serves the community spiritually. But under Rev. Miller’s stewardship, the church has expanded its role in addressing the greater community’s needs.
Seaford, a city which the US Census Bureau estimates has a black population of about 32 percent, was heavily affected by the changes to the manufacturing economy in Delaware starting in the 70s; this created a host of economic and social problems. When Rev. Miller talks about her goals for the congregation, she notes that she wants to bring the church more outside of its doors, and stretch the mission beyond traditional limits to address community needs. Needs she identifies include: a lack of economic opportunities, particularly for the young; a need for better housing; and a rising epidemic of drug use and with it, a rise in new HIV and hepatitis-C infections.
In early 2017, the Delaware Division of Public Health (DPH) asked CAMP Rehoboth to extend its state-supported HIV testing program to western Sussex County to assist DPH in heading off an HIV epidemic in that part of the county. At the same time, DPH approached Macedonia AME Church to see if they would be interested in hosting CAMP Rehoboth’s HIV testing program in Seaford.
From the beginning, Rev. Miller and the leadership of the congregation extended a warm and supportive invitation to CAMP Rehoboth, establishing regular, twice-monthly testing “clinics,” as well as a number of special testing events, all open to the entire community. The Macedonia leadership has also been instrumental in promoting the testing opportunities and leading by example. Rev. Miller is emphatic that a life of faith is also a life of service; in her words, “Faith is not faith unless you set a date to get things done.”
Rev. Miller is firm in her belief that a key aspect of serving the community is fostering a loving and supportive environment where people know they will be cared for and not judged. She also reflected on how important it was for the church to be a focal point for breaking down barriers of shame with love and compassion. She thinks it is particularly important to bring issues such as HIV and addiction out into the open because they won’t be addressed unless they are visible and discussed.
Rev. Miller strongly praises her Macedonia community for its willingness to help address the entire area’s larger needs, noting they support not only the HIV testing program but also efforts by Habitat for Humanity to provide housing to those in need in Seaford. “We do nothing alone,” she says. Similarly, Rev. Miller praises CAMP Rehoboth for its willingness to engage, respect, and serve the community. Through this partnership, since 2017 CAMP Rehoboth has tested over 100 people at Macedonia AME, and provides resources and referrals to anyone in the community who seeks its services. ▼
Jerry Filbin is an HIV testing counselor for CAMP Rehoboth, working primarily on the western Sussex County program.