Mount Ennon Baptist Church held their annual HIV/AIDS awareness service on March 3. While most churches shy away from topics of sexually transmitted diseases, Pastor Delman Coates says it is important, as a Black church, to break the silence on HIV/AIDS.
Thousands of church members attended service dressed in black, with red accents, to bring awareness to the epidemic. During service Coates also brought out his cousin, Terence Grand, to give a testimony as a man living with HIV.
Coates had not seen his cousin in 22 years because after contracting HIV, his cousin moved away and tried to start a new life where nobody knew him. "I left because I didn't want to deal with the stares and everyone talking," said Grand. "… and for anyone who has HIV positive people in their life, treat that person like a person and not like a disease.
Coates dedicated the service to opening a dialogue about people being hurt in the church, along with people fearing that they will be judged in a place where they should feel love. During service, he shared a statistic that said most people who do not go to church say they do not go because of bad experiences they've had at church. His mission is to make sure that if someone is hurting, the person feels love and not judgment. "When you go to church, which is a spiritual hospital, you should not be hurt, you should be loved," said Coates. "By judging them, you're hurting them at the very time that they need to be loved."
Mount Ennon Baptist Church began having an annual HIV/AIDS awareness service six years ago. The Prince George's County Health Department has been one of the major contributors to this annual event, providing free, confidential testing at the church. An informational session is held at Mount Ennon on the day of awareness. "I think that it's wonderful that the pastor continues to bring awareness to HIV/AIDS and even open up his own personal story with his family member," said Charetta Oliver, a member at Mount Ennon for three years. "It's great that he serves as a model and shows how we can open up our hearts and our minds to everyone."
Pastor Coates has received media attention throughout the years for his progressive views, most notably, his support for gay rights. Cotes said all people should be loved and treated equally under the law. While many people said it was career suicide to support gay rights, Coates' progressive views attract younger people and the congregation has grown to over 8,000. "We are on the verge of losing an entire generation today because of people being hurt in the church," said Coates. "There's no hurt worse than church hurt."