Amanda.Greene@ReligionNews.com

The funeral procession was rolling down Market Street toward the Baptist church that had agreed to host the murdered Talana Kreeger’s funeral in 1990 when her friends got the call.

The preacher had reconsidered. He couldn’t host a lesbian’s funeral.

Her friends didn’t know where to take her body. But someone had connections to The Church of the Good Shepherd in downtown Wilmington, where they eventually moved the procession. Talana had been disemboweled by a long haul trucker in a hate crime incident.

Talana’s funeral was the “never again” moment for Wilmington’s LGBT community. Never again would they struggle to find an accepting place to bury their dead or to worship God. The community united two years later to form the first Metropolitan Community Church in Southeastern North Carolina, calling it St. Jude’s after the patron saint of desperate causes, sometimes called “the forgotten saint.”

St. Jude's creation banner inside its sanctuary off Market Street.

St. Jude’s creation banner inside its sanctuary off Market Street.

This week, St. Jude’s MCC will celebrate its 20th anniversary with three days of events Friday-Sunday, including a visit from their denomination’s founder, the Rev. Troy Perry.

Southern MCC churches like Wilmington’s have become crucial to promoting civil and human rights and understanding neighbor-to-neighbor, Perry said in a phone interview.

St. Jude’s also played a vital role during the AIDS epidemic.

“We lost over 5,000 members to AIDS,” Perry added, “and Wilmington was one of those places where we lost members, but we gave members hope, too.”

What is the MCC?

Though the church began in sorrow, it has grown into a place of hope – from a white wooden church on Castle Street to a large brick building on Market Street with about 200 attending worship services each Sunday.  Last year, it added a food pantry to increase its community outreach. The church is developing new Christian education programs, and one member will teach a course on different types of prayers.

The Rev. John McLaughlin, pastor of St. Jude's, poses with a cross banner with names of each member of the church stitched to it.

The Rev. John McLaughlin, pastor of St. Jude’s, poses with a cross banner with names of each member of the church stitched to it.

The MCC is a Christian denomination, preaching “every element of Southern Christianity – Jesus Christ, the cross and the scripture,” said St. Jude’s pastor the Rev. John McLaughlin. “We celebrate an open communion table in that you don’t have to be baptized in that church to take communion. . .We do a blended worship since we have people who come from Lutheran, Baptist, Catholic backgrounds so we might have elements of Mass but also old hymns, clapping and Amens.”

The church is also heavily involved in social justice, organizing rallies during the recent marriage equality fight over Amendment One and is a member of Wilmington’s Ministerial Roundtable.

McLaughlin said the church was built to “reach out to everyone at the margins of society, gay or straight. We’re attracting straight married couples who aren’t being fed spiritually where they were.”

In memoriam

Some current and former members of St. Jude's dispute the church's version of history connected to Talana's death, saying church founders were organizing an MCC church before she died. But members agree her death was a ignition point for the community.

Though Talana was not a religious person, church member Tab Ballis connects her history to that of St. Judes in his documentary “The Park View Project” at the church. The film is named for the Greenfield Lake bar Talana was last seen in before her murder and examines the murder, the struggle for closure in the LGBT community and the birth of St. Jude’s.

St. Jude’s “Whosoever” banner, made by a church member is in the front of its church.

The Rev. Stephen Sprinkle, a practical theology professor in Brite Divinity School in Texas, featured Talana’s murder in his 2011 book Unfinished Lives about LGBTQ hate crime victims nationwide. It was the only murder in the book that was one reason for the formation of a church.

Of St. Jude’s connection to Talana, Sprinkle wrote: “Talana Quay Kreeger was no martyr. She did not die to establish a church. . .Still without the events of her life and death, there would be no St. Jude’s in the Port City. In that sense, it is Talana’s church, and she is its ‘forgotten’ saint.”

7 Comments

  1. Your article moved me. I was unaware of the murder and the history of St. Jude’s MCC. Thank you for honoring Talana and for illuminating St. Jude’s 20th anniversary. Brilliant piece.

  2. Joseph Sheppard

    Dear Amanda. The murder of Talana Quay Kreeger is a terrible tragedy. I challenge this story of a brutal murder as the beginning of St. Jude’s MCC. The events were coincidental. No where in the church early papers does it make mention of Talana Kreeger. Original members of St. Jude’s who met for an informational meeting on 2 August 1992 and who are still with us say this story is false. As terrible as Miss Kreeger’s death was her memory is best honored by her truth. St. Jude’s story begins years before her death by members of this Wilmington community visiting the national UFMCC churches and convincing the Board of Elders to start a church in Wilmington. They did it with joy and this should never be changed to suit someone’s own personal sensationalized agenda. Thank you.

  3. Amanda Greene

    Thank you Joe. I will certainly look into this. As I was told, Talana’s death was just one catalyst for this church forming in Wilmington. Interviews with church founders about her murder were published in Dr. Sprinkle’s book as well. And it was mentioned in interviews I did with the church’s pastor and the MCC founder. I have no agenda in this.

  4. Hi Amanda,

    Thank you for reporting this story. I had no idea about the tragic murder of Talana Kreeger and the creation of the St. Jude’s MCC church. I was so moved by the article, that I chose St. Jude as the latest saint to research for my blog http://www.saintsandrecipes.blogspot.com/.

    I mention your article in my post and I’d like to include a link to your page, so I’ll fill out the rights permission form above.

    Thank again for your report on this inspiring story.

    Maria Ross

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