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.”
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 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.”
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.
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.”