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ENGRAVED WITH LOVE:
CHURCH MEMORIALS TELL THEIR STORIES

by Lynn R. Hoke, ECW Archivist/Historian

The Rev. Pauli MurrayA church memorial turns out to be more than a beautiful work of art or a generous gift of money. A memorial can point beyond itself – to the honoree, and to the donor, as well.  In earlier centuries a memorial was often the only place besides a gravestone where a woman’s full name appeared in public. At the upcoming Annual Meeting we will continue the ECW history initiative to “name” the many women who came before us and to share their stories. Two memorials in the Durham Convocation show us how to start answering the question, “What’s the story here?”

Bessie Blacknall in her caribou beaded coatWhat’s the story behind the Eagle Lectern at Chapel of the Cross in Chapel Hill? Actually, the Diocese of North Carolina gave this lectern as a memorial to MARY RUFFIN SMITH, who at her death left the larger part of her Orange County land holdings to the Diocese. Miss Smith also provided many gifts to the parish, and she figures prominently in the story of another woman – PAULI MURRAY – the first black woman ordained as an Episcopal priest, and the first woman to celebrate the Holy Eucharist at Chapel of the Cross. Pauli Murray was a descendant of one of the slaves who came to church with Mary Ruffin Smith every Sunday and sat in the balcony. Research into the lives of both these women is ongoing as part of the Pauli Murray Project at the Duke Human Rights Center in Durham. 

What’s the story that led several donors to honor BESSIE BELLE BLACKNALL by giving the engraved Book of Remembrance to Henderson’s Church of the Holy Innocents? At Holy Innocents in 1914 Bessie Blacknall attended a Missionary Institute sponsored by the Diocesan Woman’s Auxiliary (now known as ECW.) Inspired then to volunteer for service in Alaska, she spent the next 27 years there. Her dedication likewise inspired 20 members of the Julian E. Ingle Branch of the Woman’s Auxiliary to honor her with a crazy quilt, stitched with their initials and sent with love to St. Mark’s Mission in Nenana, Alaska. When Bessie finally returned home she donated the quilt to the church, where it waits today for preservation and display. A list of the names that coincide with the quilt’s initials, alongside a photo of Bessie in native Alaskan dress, hangs in a small frame on the back wall of the Parish House. Twenty more names … at least twenty more stories!

Lynn Hoke, archivist/historian for the Diocesan ECW, and the Rev. Donald Lowery, rector of the Church of the Holy Innocents in Henderson, examine the “crazy quilt” made to honor Bessie Blacknall. (Photo taken by Ellen Weig)Look around – what stories will your memorials tell? The Diocesan ECW wants to help you share them.