A minister handed out condoms to his congregation at Sunday's service to dramatize the need for measures to stop the spread of the deadly disease AIDS.
"We should be having a dialogue about these issues, shouldn't we? But most of us are still squeamish," the Rev. Carl F. Titchener told about 250 people who packed the Unitarian Universalist Church of Amherst.
Acknowledging that some people might call his dramatization a gimmick, Titchener said he hoped to make people more aware of acquired immune deficiency syndrome and other sexually transmitted diseases.
Two-thirds of the way through his sermon, Titchener and six ushers dispensed about 125 boxes, each containing three condoms, which he said are symbols of the fight against AIDS.
"It should not be necessary for me to do what we are doing this morning," Titchener said. "But the only ways we have to stop the spread of this dread disease is to abstain, or, if we do not abstain, to use a condom."
The overflow audience applauded him four times and gave him a standing ovation at the end of his 30-minute sermon. But he quickly left the church after the service, saying he had received threats.
The liberal Protestant church's parent organization in Boston officially took no position on his effort.
Outside the church, about 10 protesters marched in freezing rain, some reciting the Rosary, others carrying placards reading, "A Wolf in Sheep's Clothing" and "Promotion of Condoms Will Procure the Rath of God."
Alluding to an increase in early diagnoses of colon cancer after the publicity surrounding President Reagan's treatment for the disease, Titchener said similar progress can be made against AIDS.
He called for television stations to accept advertising for condoms, which U.S. Surgeon General C. Everett Koop has called the best deterrent, aside from abstinence, against the spread of AIDS.
Titchener, who is married with four children, said he probably would not have spoken on the subject if a fellow minister had not contracted AIDS.
The disease, for which no cure is known, attacks the body's immune system. It is most often transmitted through sexual contact, transfusions of tainted blood or blood products or the sharing of contaminated hypodermic needles or syringes by drug abusers.