Film 'Gospel of Healing' looks at HIV/AIDS

09:42 PM, Feb 24, 2013

Written By Patti Singer Staff writer

HIV tests

As part of the National Week of Prayer for the Healing of AIDS, free testing will be available during and after the following services:
• 10 a.m., March 3, New Bethel CME Church, 270 Scio St.
• 7 p.m., March 4, Elim Christian Fellowship, 765 E. Main St.
• 7 p.m., March 7, Joint Heirs Kingdom, 70 Waverly Place
• 7 p.m., March 8, Memorial AME Zion Church, 549 Clarissa St. Includes screening of The Gospel of Healing.
Services also will be held:
• 7 p.m. March 5 St. Paul Believers Holiness Church, 63 Thomas St.
• 7 p.m., March 6, In Christ New Hope Ministries, 155 Pinnacle Road, Henrietta.
• 12:30 p.m., March 7, Strong Memorial Hospital Interfaith Chapel, 601 Elmwood Ave.
• 6 p.m., March 9, Zion Hill Missionary Baptist Church, 250 Dr. Samuel McRee Way. Guest speaker Rev. Edwin C. Sanders II, senior servant and founder of Metropolitan Interdenominational Church, Nashville.
For more, call (585) 760-3447.

As Paul Grant sits in the back of rooms where his documentary The Gospel of Healing is shown, he listens to how people react.

They respond to the film like they’re sitting in church,” said Grant, whose film explores how five black churches minister to physical and spiritual health of their communities in response to HIV/AIDS.

When he hears ‘yes,’ ‘amen,’ and ‘that’s right’ directed to the preachers on the screen, he knows his audience has heard their — and his — message.

I wanted people to sit and feel like they’re actually sitting and talking to these pastors,” said Grant. “People respond in a visceral way.”

The Gospel of Healing Vol. 1: Black Churches Respond to HIV/AIDS, will be shown at 7 p.m., March 8 at Memorial AME Zion Church as part of the local activities organized by AIDS Care for the National Week of Prayer for the Healing of AIDS.

The annual event, originally the Black Church Week of Prayer for the Healing of AIDS, is sponsored by the Balm in Gilead. The international nonprofit organization develops educational and training programs to help African-American and African congregations become community centers for health education and disease prevention.

The National Week of Prayer for the Healing of AIDS encourages people of all faiths to learn about HIV prevention and testing, and to advocate for compassionate care and treatment for people who have the disease.

The event has been going for more than 20 years. Rochester churches have been involved for approximately a decade, and AIDS Care has been participating since 2009. The agency works with the National Black Leadership Commission on AIDS, the Rochester Victory Alliance and several churches. In addition to organizing free HIV testing at service, AIDS Care tries a different approach to keep up the conversation about HIV/AIDS.

Jackie Dozier, minority health initiatives program coordinator, had heard about The Gospel of Healing through National Black Leadership Commission on AIDS and had seen the trailer.

We’re having a lot of collaboration with faith-based community,” she said. “I thought it was important that they get a chance to view a screening. There’s always room to get more knowledge. I’m hoping this film will give a broader scope on how HIV/AIDS is affecting the African-American community.”

Grant has shown his documentary in more than dozen cities just since last summer. Dozier contacted him several months ago and while they’ve never met in person, Grant said he knew her by reputation.

She’s been recommended by several people in the film,” he said.

One of them, Rev. Edwin C. Sanders II of Nashville, is scheduled to be the guest speaker at 6 p.m. March 9 at Zion Hill Missionary Baptist Church.

Before becoming a filmmaker, Grant worked with a consulting firm for the Department of Health and Human Services, writing public service announcements about HIV-prevention and awareness.

His first project was Tangy’s Song!, produced for BET and about gospel singer Tangy Major who despite contracting HIV in the late 1980s, remained resolute in her faith.

She believed she was healed even though she had HIV,” he said. “I never heard anyone in my whole life with a chronic illness say they were healed.”

It made him reflect on his father, who was an ordained Baptist minister but did not have a pulpit. The elder Grant had heart disease and believed his faith would heal. But he sustained permanent damage and later died from the condition.

It also started Grant thinking about the intersection of faith and health — what calls people of faith to take on physical healing and whether fear of a disease causes people to try to pray away their illness and not seek medical care.

He started working on the Gospel of Healing in 2006, and most of the interviews were held in 2008.

Even though Grant, 38, doesn’t call himself an advocate, he admitted that The Gospel of Healing could be his calling.

Grant made a decision to omit statistics — like the ones from the Kaiser Family Foundation that say despite making up 12 percent of the population, African-Americans accounted for 44 percent of new HIV infections in the U.S. in 2010. In Monroe County, 52 percent of new HIV infections in 2011 were among blacks, according to the Department of Public Health.

Rather than numbers, Grant wanted to focus on where a difference is being made.

There has been greater reception to the idea of churches doing this work and churches need to do this work. That has been biggest change. People are open to the conversation. I don’t see where churches are getting hung up in the conversation of gay straight, in some of the barriers they probably expected in getting churches to do this work in the 1990s and ’80s. It’s ‘I get it now. We can do this.’ “