Gloria Smith, an AIDS patient, walked in measured steps to the pulpit and turned to face a congregation of fewer than 100 gathered at the Lutheran Church of the Reformation in Northeast Washington.

"There are people who tell me my God is avenging my life," said Smith, a former intravenous drug user. "There is no one more fearful than me, and no one who feels more alone."

Thus began a worship service last night that focused on the crisis of AIDS, capping a day in which leaders of five major religious groups in Washington announced the first interfaith ministry to AIDS patients and urged their members -- over some objections -- to replace moral judgments with compassion.

The Interfaith Conference of Metropolitan Washington, made up of clerics and lay members from 30 Islamic, Jewish, Mormon, Protestant and Roman Catholic groups, recommended that churches hold regular worship services for AIDS victims and their families, distribute AIDS resource books to congregations, establish an AIDS chaplaincy program and explore establishing a pastoral center for AIDS patients.

With lukewarm support from some black clerics and some Muslim leaders, the conference adopted a statement saying that religious communities are obliged to minister to dying AIDS victims, regardless of their views of the disease or of its primary victims, homosexuals.

The statement was among the first in the country issued with such a broad religious base.

Yesterday's activities signal a growing awareness among religious denominations of the inadequacy of their efforts to minister to AIDS sufferers, who number 1,359 locally and 42,182 nationally. As the Rev. Carl Nissen, pastor of Falls Church Presbyterian Church, said during one discussion, "There's a danger in this kind of dialogue that we treat {AIDS} as something just in society at large. For the religious community that I'm a part of, it's a heart-wrenching matter." Nissen said several members of his congregation are very sick with AIDS.

Churches and other religious bodies traditionally have been reluctant to take a public position on AIDS, largely because it is most often transmitted through homosexual activity, which almost all major denominations consider a sin. As the conference's AIDS task force put together its recommendations for the full conference meeting today, there was a suggestion from a few members that AIDS is divine punishment and that churches shouldn't interfere in God's plan, according to task force members.

Other members worried that by preaching compassion, clerics would in effect be endorsing homosexuality or drug use. AIDS, or acquired immune deficiency syndrome, can be contracted from infected needles as well as through sexual contact.

The Rev. Ernest R. Gibson, pastor of First Rising Mount Zion Baptist Church and a leader among black Protestant churches in the city, said during a discussion break that he believed the conference should have included moral considerations in its presentation. "We will have to do that in order to get a significant response from the black {Protestant} church," he said.

Later, during debate over the task force's recommendations, Qaadir Madyun, a Muslim, expressed similar reservations. "I would like the conference to put forth a statement on how it feels about homosexuality," he said.

The Muslim religion, which sets out strict laws governing the conduct of its members, prohibits homosexuality and views AIDS as something outside its purview. "I don't know how to approach a person with AIDS," said Imam Shaker El Sayed, leader of the Islamic Center in Northwest Washington. "I can't give him that much help."

The task force wanted to avoid making judgments, knowing that the conference's members would never agree on what it should say, said the Rev. Clark Lobenstine, executive director. As one line in the statement said, "A call to compassion and service should not be blocked by differing moral judgments on this issue . . . . Judgment is God's; the work of compassion is ours."

The statement and recommendations passed on a near-unanimous voice vote by the 24 conference members, with a few either absent or abstaining. Most members came away feeling they had done something important.

However, the sparse attendance at the evening service that followed might have carried a cautionary message. Several leaders said it reflected how much a plan like theirs is needed to raise the consciousness of their congregations.