WESTMINSTER — From 1981 until last August, the Carroll County Health Department recorded 24 cases of AIDS, with half of those people now deceased.
In the past seven months since Linda Stromberg, a registered nurse, became the county's AIDS caseworker, that list has grown by at least six more countians.
"That's how rapidly things are changing," said Stromberg. "We have people from every risk group and most recently, heterosexuals contracting the disease in Carroll County.
"I am not talking about someone who has slept with hordes of people and gets the virus. Sometimes, it's a teen-ager who makes one mistake."
The crisis is compounded by loss of employment and housing, she said. People who are diagnosed as having AIDS or the AIDS virus often turn to churches for help.
To educate the clergy on how to help, Mary Shimo, a chaplain at Carroll County General Hospital, and members of the AIDS Interfaith Network of Baltimore organized a "Clergy Education Seminar."
"As the spokesperson for your congregations, your role is enormous," Stromberg said to a group of about 50 ministers and health-care officials at the hospital Tuesday. "Educate and encourage them to do whatever theycan to help."
Two people who have AIDS, William Morrison and JohnStuban, also spoke to the group.
"People in rural areas often think of themselves as insulated from this disease," said Morrison, a research patient at Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore. "No way. I know of three cases in this county right now.
"HIV (human immunodeficiency virus, which leads to AIDS) is everywhere and out of control. Get together now before it becomes an epidemic in the your area."
Morrison said control comes through education, and he has made education his mission.
"If I can get to one person, I can help that person live," he said. "Nobody should have to go through this hell."
The fastest spread of AIDS is among women and adolescents, "a group whothought they couldn't catch the disease," said Stuban.
"There arewhole families infected now, living their lives knowing only illness," said Morrison.
The ministry is needed, said the Rev. Harry L. Holfelder, pastor of First and Franklin Presbyterian Church in Baltimore, because AIDS is going to "impact all our churches."
"The face of AIDS is changing and we have to be there," said Holfelder, who helped found AIDS Interfaith Network.
Several ministers addressed thegroup. Many spoke from the experience of dealing directly with thoseliving with AIDS.
"Use the words: AIDS and HIV infection," said the Rev. Lawrence Johnson of Immaculate Heart of Mary Church in Baltimore County. "Say them from the pulpit, use them in prayer. Let the congregation hear them."
How people contract the disease should not be an issue, the priest said. Compassion and pastoral care are "our concerns."
"Forget how or why they got it," said Stuban. "Focus on their needs."
Johnson also gave the group information on AIDS, which, he said, "breaks all rules of health and pastoral care," and offered advice on dealing with patients.
"I can't emphasize enough theimportance of touch. Nothing robs humanity more than withdrawal of touch," he said.
Morrison told the group to be afraid of the virus but not of the people who have it.
"You will be asked to help us. We can't go through the system alone," he said.
Stuban said he hadcome to talk about prevention as well. Many in the group said they preached abstinence.
"Abstinence is not part of reality for many people," said Stuban. "I would rather save the lives of fornicators than condemn them to death."
Stromberg, who speaks every week in the county schools, echoed his sentiments.
"Teens are not buying into this abstinence or one-partner thing," she said.
Morrison had a final plea for the group.
"Make our last moments and our transition into our new lives less painful," he said.
The Health Department offers confidential free testing for HIV and AIDS from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. weekdays. Information: 876-4926.