Church marks World AIDS Day with quilt

Dec. 01, 2013 @ 04:44 PM

In observance of World AIDS Day, two 12x12 pieces of history hang in the sanctuary of the Eno River Unitarian Universalist Fellowship.

What began in the summer of 1987 as a way to memorialize those who lost their lives to AIDS, the NAMES Project AIDS Memorial Quilt has grown into the world’s largest community art project with more than 94,000 names on 1.3 million square feet of fabric.

“We decided that it was something that needed to be brought to the area,” said Joyce Heflin, fellowship member and coordinator of Interweave, the church’s group for LGBT affairs which is hosting the quilt. “It’s an epidemic still but it’s no longer a death sentence. We want to help people be aware.”

The two panels have been rented to the fellowship, Heflin explained, and one of them happens to contain a memorial to a Duke University undergraduate and law school graduate, Bill Pursley, who according to the quilt, died on Nov. 25, 1987 from AIDS (Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome).

Heflin added that the quilt is “so big now it can no longer be displayed in its entirety.”

The memorial quilt is comprised of more than 48,000 individual panels. The quilt was first displayed on Oct. 11, 1987 on the National Mall in Washington D.C. during the National March on Washington for Lesbian and Gay Rights.

It is estimated that half a million people visited the quilt that weekend. Since then, more than 14 million people have visited the quilt via displays around the world and raised more than $3 million for AIDS service organizations throughout North America.

To help start the weeklong display at the Fellowship, both Sunday services had time for reflection on the quilt.

Audience members were given the opportunity to reflect on how AIDS has affected their lives. One woman said that she lost two brothers to the disease less than four years apart, while another lost her ex-husband.

Dr. Ross McKinney spoke at the 11:15 a.m. service, reflecting on an encounter he had in 2011 with a 17-year-old high school student who was born HIV (Human Immunodeficiency Virus) positive while he was a pediatrics infectious disease specialist.

“Most of us (doctors) felt that we offered more by being there than we were by treating them with the medicines we had to offer,” McKinney said. “In 1986, there was a three and a half year life expectancy for a child with HIV or AIDS. We hoped for the best but planned for the worse.”

McKinney explained that in the 80s, children born with AIDS or HIV could expect frequent hospital visits and a poor quality of life, which presented a specific obstacle.

“How should I balance the reality that I know with the hope that I want to feel,” he said.

McKinney said that had his patient in 2011 been one in 1986, “I would have considered it absolutely unbelievable, science fiction.”

“In my career, I’ve seen my hopes realized,” he explained. “What was once a death sentence is now the promise of a future. AIDS in America is a very different disease.”

The AIDS Memorial Quilt will be on display at Eno River Unitarian Universalist Fellowship through Saturday.

The fellowship will also host a film screening of “Common Threads: Stories from the Quilt” at 7 p.m. Wednesday in the Fellowship Hall.


For information on the Memorial Quilt display or event, contact the Fellowship at (919) 489-2575 or by emailing