The BIG IDEA
December’s BIG IDEA
“'Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these."
According to the Centers for Disease Control, African Americans comprise over 40 percent of all HIV cases in the United States but about 12 percent of the nation’s population. African Americans are diagnosed with the HIV virus at a rate higher than any other race or ethnic group. As African Americans continue to be disproportionately affected by HIV/AIDS, churches must no longer shy away from this pandemic, and Cosmopolitan Baptist Church in Oakland, California is one church that is confronting HIV/AIDS in its community.
Cosmopolitan Baptist Church began its AIDS ministry in 1991 when a minister named Milton Hill joined Cosmopolitan after he was dismissed from another church because he had contracted the AIDS virus. When Rev. Hill arrived, Pastor Larry Ashley did not want Cosmopolitan Baptist Church to treat people as Rev. Hill’s former church treated him. So, Pastor Ashley began working with Dr. Leon Bacchues, a clinical psychologist and director of the church’s AIDS ministry, and Dr. Bonita White to learn more about HIV and ways the church could help people living with the virus. As a result of this work, the church began the Milton Hill Health Ministry in honor of Rev. Milton Hill.
The Milton Hill Health ministry offers services to people infected with and affected by HIV/AIDS. The church refers people to testing centers, periodically serves as an HIV/AIDS testing site, and provides psychosocial counseling to people affected by the virus. Cosmopolitan has been recognized by its local county government as a health ministry that addresses AIDS. The church has partnered with Meals on Wheels to provide meals to people with AIDS, and it also provides spiritual support for anyone who is sent to them by community agencies. Cosmopolitan Baptist Church has participated in community and county health fairs and sponsored seminars for local church groups, community groups, and seminary students.
Because AIDS remains a taboo subject in many African American churches, many pastors are afraid of the fallout they might experience by addressing AIDS-related issues. Therefore, Pastor Ashley often assists Dr. Bacchues with presentations about the church’s AIDS ministry. Both men agree that some pastors want to hear firsthand from another senior pastor about potential obstacles, and they are more willing to act after hearing from a pastor who has travelled the journey on which they are about to embark.
Since the Milton Hill Health Ministry began, the congregation has become very open about discussing AIDS. In the past, many people remained silent about their personal experiences with AIDS, but today, the congregation has become a safe space for people to dialogue about the virus. Since 1991, several members of the congregation have tested positive for the virus, and many others who had friends and relatives affected by the disease became increasingly willing to share their stories and provide and receive support in the congregation.
Cosmopolitan Baptist Church funds the Milton Hill Health Ministry primarily through private donations. The church also occasionally collects special offerings. In order to remain autonomous, the church has not accepted federal funding. However, to date the church has been able to operate the Milton Hill Health Ministry through these avenues and through the volunteer efforts of the congregation and community.
Cosmopolitan Baptist Church is on the cutting edge of addressing HIV/AIDS in the African American community. This 250 member church implemented its BIG IDEA to minister to people who are outcasts in many churches. Cosmopolitan is answering God’s call to help people by informing people of AIDS prevention methods and by welcoming and ministering to those affected by the disease.
ResourcesIf your church or community is interested in developing an HIV/AIDS ministry, the following national and community organizations may assist with your project:
Churches with HIV/AIDS ministries: