By Karen Vance
In 1989, a health-care worker in Harlem saw a growing AIDS epidemic in the African-American community and started her own day of prayer.
That effort has grown to become the Black Church Week of Prayer for the Healing of AIDS, an event recognized by religious institutions throughout the United States and in six African countries.
"Historically, every power movement in the African-American community came down from the church. So it's only fitting for the churches and every house of faith to lead the fight on this," said Cheryl Hutchins, facilitator of the Faith Initiative and one of the week's organizers. "This is bigger than anything else. It's not going away, and it's going to take a battle on every front, in homes, hospitals and churches."
In Cincinnati, churches, synagogues and mosques will observe the week with special remembrances at services Sunday.
The week begins with Red Ribbon Sunday at various churches throughout the Tristate.
On Friday, House of Joy Christian Ministries, 5712 Hamilton Ave., will host a gospel concert at 7 p.m.
"The purpose is to mobilize African-American churches and churches with an African-American component to raise awareness and educate people about HIV and AIDS," Hutchins said. "Because even now, the infection rates are still going up."
Pastor Rousseau O'Neal of Rockdale Baptist Church was among religious leaders who spoke recently about the importance of the week of prayer.
"This is broader and larger than just a black issue," O'Neal said. "However, this has been depicted as a white homosexual disease, and that's not true. We need to open the eyes of our community."
O'Neal stresses the need for ministers to promote love among those infected.
"We're also going to pray for those who are battling this disease, and we're going to pray for our country to remove the stigma attached to it," he said.
"There are a lot of people suffering in silence, and if the church begins to talk about this issue, than the true healing can begin," she said.
With Lent beginning with the observance of Ash Wednesday this week, many Tristate churches are making special arrangements to observe the 40 days before Easter.
One of those churches, Covenant Presbyterian Church at Eighth and Elm streets downtown, is hoping people will take time out of their lunch breaks to feed their souls. The church hosts a weekly service called "Inspiration at Noon," with lunch served for a half hour before and after.
During Lent, the service will concentrate on the voices Jesus heard in his final days. On Wednesday the message will be "Participation in Christ's Passion" and the sacrament of the Lord's Supper will be served regardless of denomination.
The series continues every Wednesday in Lent.
Optional lunch costs $4. For information, call the church, 621-4144.
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