Below the hanging oblong gilded lamp, Andrena Ingram begins her sermon. Parishioners in attendance at St. Michael’s Lutheran Church in Mount Airy, give her the love and respect that comes with four years of her service to the community.
Pastor Ingram is a petite, 56 year old woman with her black skin firm and unlined. He hair is in a bun that is tightly braided on top of her head. She is wearing her Sunday liturgical vestments over a comfortable pair of fitted jeans. What you cannot see is that Ingram has been infected for 23 years with the HIV virus.
This is Sunday, and her congregation listens as Ingram combines biblical narrative with real-life experiences. Her message is about life on the streets, drug addiction, and coming to terms with the results of our decisions. She grew up with an alcoholic father who often beat her mother. She learned to cope, or decided to go the way of alcohol and snorting heroin. That was in the past and now she is involved in raising money for causes, amongst them the annual Philadelphia Aids walk.
When not preaching in church, Pastor Ingram serves up food and fellowship at a community centre, which also doubles as a free HIV-testing site every other month.
She tells her story in church and at youth organizations. It is an interesting story of an abusive marriage and a career in the Army. She gave birth to a baby daughter and still struggled with alcohol. After the army she moved in with her parents. She began staying out all night and drinking. Her parents kicked her out on the streets.
Smoking crack and having random sexual encounters resulted in her contacting the HIV virus. Then, an up swing in good luck, she became sober and moved in with a wonderful man, Warren, a recovering intravenous user. They regained custody of Ingram’s children and celebrated the birth of their new born son. Then, Warren succumbed to Aids and died. Ingram got tested and was just below the blood count for full blown Aids.
Now, with three young children, Ingram made an incredible and unselfish decision. Instead of feeling sorry for herself and her kids, she embarked on path to a theological seminary. She would spend the rest of her life helping others by empowering them with the love of God and the experiences of her own life.NN