Seeing the Face of AIDS: The Story of George Clark III
by Cathie LyonsThe Covenant to Care program was founded because of personal encounters with the many faces of AIDS. A compelling instance was at the United Methodist National Consultation on AIDS Ministries in November 1987. At closing worship for that gathering, Cathie Lyons, then staff of Health and Welfare Ministries, suggested some images that would bind the participants together as persons of faith as they traveled home. One of her images reflected a question raised by George Clark III (right), a participant.
Earlier in the week, in a soft voice and thought-filled manner, George had disclosed that he had AIDS. Then he asked: "Would I be welcome in your local church, in your annual conference?" On the last day of the conference, Cathie responded publicly to his question: "George, I name you Legion, because in the life of this church you are many. The question you raise is manifold in its proportions. It is a question which must be addressed to every congregation and every conference in this church."
The face AIDS wears is both many and one. The face of AIDS is women and men, children, youth and adults. It is our sons and daughters, brothers and sisters, husbands and wives, mothers and fathers. Sometimes the face AIDS wears is that of a person without a home or a person in prison. Other times it's the face of a pregnant woman who is fearful she will pass HIV to her unborn child. Sometimes it's a baby or child who has no caregiver and little hope of adoption or being placed in foster care.
Persons living with AIDS (PLWAs) come from
all walks of life. PLWAs represent all racial and ethnic groups,
religious backgrounds, and countries of the world. Some are employed;
others are underemployed or unemployed. Some are affected by other
life-threatening situations such as poverty, domestic or societal
violence, or intravenous drug use.
We should not be surprised that the many faces AIDS wears are, really, one and the same face. The one face that AIDS wears is always the face of a person created and loved by God.
George Clark III died on April 18, 1989 in Brooklyn, New York from the complications of AIDS. He was 29 years old. He was survived by his parents, his sister, other relatives and United Methodists across the country who were moved by the challenge George put to his church at the National Consultation on AIDS Ministries in 1987.
The story of George Clark III reminds us that every day another family, friend, community, or church learns that one of its own has AIDS. George's parents were en route to New York City when he died. George had hoped that the Reverend Arthur Brandenburg, who had been George's pastor in Pennsylvania, would be with him. George got his wish. Art was there, as was Mike, a gracious and kind man who had opened his home to George.
Art Brandenburg recalls that, at death, George was wearing a World Methodist Youth Fellowship T-shirt . . . and that the birds outside George's window stopped singing. . .
The photographs are of George Clark
III serving communion and the communion table at the National
Consultation on AIDS Ministries in 1987. They were taken by Nancy A.
Carter. Please give credit if reproducing.
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