The Rev. Jamie Hammons has a vision of Southland congregations and Episcopalians creating a quilt – or quilts—as a tangible remembrance of loved ones who have died from AIDS.
She hopes that the quilt, when finished next spring, will also be a concrete reminder that the AIDS epidemic “is still in front of us. It’s not over with.
“We still have a fight so we want to remember those who are gone but also to remember the ones that are living with HIV/AIDS,” said Hammons, a chaplain at the King-Drew Medical Center, during a recent telephone interview from her office.
The Program Group on AIDS Ministry (PGAM) encouraged delegates and visitors to stop by the group’s booth and to pick up a quilt square or squares during the Dec. 2 – 3 annual convention meeting of the Diocese of Los Angeles at the Riverside Convention Center.
“We’ll have the blocks at the booth,” Hammons said a few weeks before the convention. “They can take them and be creative with them, make designs and then return them to us by clergy conference in early May.”
Participating congregations — and she hoped all 147 would participate — can be as creative as they’d like, incorporating colors, images, photographs, signatures, and stitchery into their designs, Hammons added.
She figures that the six-month deadline will afford congregations and individuals time to decide upon and complete a design. Possibilities include incorporating a loved one’s favorite color, embroidering a poem or favorite Scripture verse, or even their likeness, or simply a name and birthday and date of death.
“They can put flowers on the quilt,” Hammons said. “For example, if their loved one was a chef they might have a table setting or food, or use symbols depicting that,” she added.
Hammons, a quilter for four years, is a member of African American Quilters of Los Angeles; the group features one of her recent quilts on its website (www.easysite.com/aaqla).
Since the disease was first identified in 1981, the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) has been responsible for 65 million infections and 25 million deaths worldwide. About 1.2 million people in the United States are living with HIV and about one in five are unaware of the infection, according to the Center for Disease Control in Atlanta (//1.usa.gov/GMtMq).
Nationally, African Americans and Latinos are disproportionately affected by HIV/AIDS, according to the CDC. Latinos represented 16 percent of the population but accounted for 20 percent of new HIV infections in 2009. In the same year, the estimated rate of new HIV infections among Latino men was two and a half times that of white men. That same year, the rate of new HIV infections among Latina women was four and a half times that of white women.
Blacks represent approximately 14 percent of the U.S. population, but accounted for an estimated 44 percent of new HIV infections in 2009. The estimated rate of new HIV infections among black men in 2009 was six and a half times as high as that of white men, and more than two and a half times as high as that of Latino men and of black women. In the same year, the estimated rate of new HIV infections among black women was 15 times that of white women and more than three times that of Latina women.
Canon Jack Plimpton, diocesan staff member for HIV/AIDS Ministry, as well as PGAM members, expressed concerns at the Oct. 16 annual diocesan AIDS Mass over public complacency about the disease.
“People think they can just pop a pill and it’s fine,” program group chair Marsha Van Valkenburg said after the AIDS service.
Hammons hopes the quilt will help Southland Episcopalians realize the disease is still a threat.
Volunteer quilters needn’t be experts; Hammons, for example, purchased a sewing machine a few years ago and eventually took a quilting class. She is currently working on a commemorative quilt for a friend, she added.
The project doesn’t need to end with a single quilt, either, she added. “When the quilt is completed there may be others, depending on how many blocks are returned. And there may be people out there who want to create their own blocks. If they don’t pick them up at convention, we can just include their blocks anyway,” she said.
The quilt or quilts will be displayed at the annual diocesan AIDS mass in October and “hopefully at next year’s convention,” Hammons added.
The muslin blocks are available in square and rectangular shapes and are various sizes. A free-will donation will, Hammons hopes, offset material costs.
The squares are backed with freezer paper to stabilize the fabric for the designs, explained Ann Seitz, a parishioner at Immanuel Church in El Monte, and also a quilter.
“We want to make squares available to people to write or draw on them or do some kind of representation” to commemorate loved ones who have died from AIDS, said Seitz.
The group hopes designing the squares will be come a collaborative project among congregations. “It’s their creative block to do with as they wish, for their loved one or beloved parishioners.”
“The squares will be sewn together to create the top of a quilt and they it will be put together with backing and batting,” Seitz said. The size of the quilt eventually will depend on how many squares are returned to the quilters.
“If we get lots we can make several quilts,” she added.
“It would be nice to think that something could come of this,” she said. “Hopefully there will be groups of quilters in many churches.”
It could also be the start of an Episcopal quilting movement. Said Seitz: “If we get a ton of squares back, we’ll need help in construction of the quilt. It would be nice to think that we could do that.”
The diocesan Commission on HIV/AIDS Ministry was created in 1984 by Los Angeles Bishops Robert C. Rusack and Oliver B. Garver and continues to focus on service ministries such as pastoral counseling, Eucharist, and memorial and AIDS masses.