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A Life's Ministry Springs From A Dilemma Over AIDS

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A Life's Ministry Springs From A Dilemma Over AIDS

A Life's Ministry Springs From A Dilemma Over AIDS

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STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Tomorrow is World AIDS day, and in this morning's StoryCorps, a minister tells his colleague about his first experience with the disease. It happened in 1991, when the Reverend Eric Williams was a young pastor who had recently taken charge of his own church in Kansas City, Missouri.

REVEREND ERIC WILLIAMS: So I got a call from a local funeral home. She said: I've got a really big favor that I want to ask. There's a kid that died. He'd been a member of the church all his life. His parents were very active in the church, mom sang in the choir. At any rate, he's 25 years old, and he died of AIDS. And he just happened to be gay. She said, when his pastor found out how he died, he said, well, you know, I'm not going to do the funeral, and it can't happen in our church.

JANNETTE BERKLEY-PATTON: So how did you respond to that, then?

WILLIAMS: I didn't want to do it - didn't want to do it. It's not appropriate for one pastor to go against what another pastor has said, this is what I'm going to do in my congregation. And I was perfectly all right with that, until I went home and started thinking about this family. You know, everything good that I've been able to accomplish has started with some kind of a burden. And AIDS burdened me. So, reluctantly, I did the funeral.

I met the parents of this kid. And, you know, I was used to black dads disowning their gay sons. That was the thing to do. My son can't be gay - but not this family. This father, this mother, they celebrated his life. They embraced all of his friends. And, you know, they taught me more about unconditional love in that little experience than any of the Sunday school books and any of the courses in seminary, or any of it. And that was the event that kind of rearranged my life.

INSKEEP: Reverend Eric Williams in Kansas City, Missouri. He went on to devote himself to AIDS ministry and to educating people about the disease. Reverend Williams spoke with his colleague Jannette Berkley-Patton for StoryCorps, and all StoryCorps interviews are archived at the American Folk Life Center at the Library of Congress. The podcast is at npr.org.

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