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Thu June 17, 2004
Recalling the early days of the church, Paul recently visited what he calls the "Catacombs of Castle Street."
By Paul Wilkes
Wilmington NC – [Click the Listen button to hear Paul's commentary.]
We all know many of the people who attend St. Jude's Church. We work alongside them, see them while we're shopping, run into them at the hospital, or at school. We hear them on the radio, read about them in the newspaper. They are teachers, laborers, managers, clerks, educated and not.
They come here to St. Jude's to see to the health of their souls, just as any churchgoer would do. But, there is something different here. They also come to St. Jude's because it is safe.
Safe in the way the early Christians found they needed a place apart, apart from disapproving eyes so they could meet, and talk, and worship. They were unwelcome in houses of worship so first they met in homes, eventually in cavernous webs of catacombs where they could be out of sight of those who thought them idolaters, heathen, opponents to well-accepted religious beliefs.
As I sat one recent Sunday at St. Jude's, I could see that this was their catacomb. For we, the allegedly religious as well as our religious establishments often do not welcome the people who come to St. Jude's. Many of our religious leaders make it clear that their way of life is disordered, wrong. They need to convert to our way of life.
St. Jude's, that inconspicuous little white clapboard church near the corner of Fifth and Castle streets, is one of three hundred Metropolitan Community Churches located in twenty-two countries. Founded some thirty-five years ago to provide a safe haven for gay men and lesbian women, who felt like lepers in their own churches, MCC is a small, but growing denomination. But it is not a church exclusively for homosexuals. Straight people, straight couples as well have found their way to a church that not only says its welcomes the stranger, but opens its arms to these, often considered the least of the brethren.
As I sat in St. Jude's, I looked around me. Some men, some women, were with their companions. Many were alone. But I now saw them in a new light. As a worshipping Christian community, brought together by the hunger in their souls. A hunger that knows no boundaries of sexuality, or status, or time.
Here they were, in their church, once home to a congregation of Primitive Baptists. Safe. Safe from those disapproving looks they experienced in other churches when male and male, female and female appeared week after week, together. Safe to put a hand on each other's shoulder during a service, as many couples will do, or give a knowing smile at a great point made in the sermon.
One young man told me that St. Jude's was not a church for homosexuals. It was a church for outcasts. So, if some Sunday morning at 9:30 or 11, or Sunday evening at 7 you want to be among those who readily admit they are both the crucified and the hopeful, both the frightened and the confident, both broken and whole, you can come to the modern day catacombs on Fifth and Castle. If ever you needed or wanted acceptance, you will find it here. If ever you wanted to sense what it was like to be a people whose faith was real - but distrusted - that, too, you will experience here. If you feel an outcast, yet hopeful that God and a caring community can lift you up... well, you can be sure you will be welcome here.
You are not alone. And here, you are safe.
Paul Wilkes is a free-lance writer and teaches english at UNCW.