It all began in 1986 when Jay Nelson, a young man with AIDS, approached the new pastor of Bering Memorial United Methodist Church, Rev. Dr. Don Sinclair, with a proposal: he wanted to start a support group for people with HIV and their families and friends. Because he wanted the group to provide the spiritual basis of compassion and care, Jay was emphatic that the group be called a “spiritual support group.” He also wanted to avoid using “HIV” or “AIDS” in the name of the group because of the stigma associated with the disease.
Although ill at the time, Jay worked tirelessly to fulfill his vision. He died shortly after the initial meetings of the group, but his dream has lived on for 26 years as the “Bering Spiritual Support Group.” We believe this is the longest-running support group in the country.
Over the years many volunteers of the support group have given sacrificially to support those with HIV/AIDS. Many of the volunteers were themselves HIV+ and gave the last few years of their lives to create a supportive atmosphere. Bering Support Network volunteers and members have tenderly cared for its members and have become family to each other.
When the support groups began in 1986, HIV/AIDS was considered by most to be a death sentence. The time between diagnosis and death was sometimes very short. Although people still die of AIDS today, there are more and more people facing the challenges of living with HIV/AIDS.
Sometime in the mid to late 1990s, the scope of support was broadened beyond HIV to include individual and couple’s counseling. This expanded framework was given the name “Bering Support Network.”
The diagnosis of HIV brings with it a change in identity, stigma, fears, and on-going health concerns. People who are infected with and affected by HIV require support in coming to terms with their situations. Through support groups and staff and volunteers who lend a listening ear, Bering Support Network strives to be that support.
Bering Support Network continues to operate as a ministry of Bering Memorial United Methodist Church. BSN’s governing body is appointed by the church.