The Rev. Kurt Krieger has served for 4½ years as senior pastor at Spirit of Hope Metropolitan Community Church, 38th and Wyandotte Streets in Kansas City, but his face is familiar to many people beyond his congregation. If you’ve been out in Kansas City’s LGBT community at Pride, AIDS Walk, LIKEME Lighthouse, or many other events and places, you’d probably recognize him.
And now his career, too, will reach beyond Spirit of Hope MCC to the greater Kansas City LGBT community.
Krieger has decided to leave Spirit of Hope and work on developing a Kansas City chapter of the national group SAGE: Services and Advocacy for Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender Elders. His last day at the church will be Feb. 3, 2014.
Krieger already has been working with the seniors group at his church and has been in close communication with the St. Louis and Chicago chapters of SAGE, so this move seems like a natural progression.
“It’s been my passion for 2½ years, and it takes a lot of effort to get it off the ground,” he said. “So it’s always been something in the back of my brain to do this. I just felt like everybody said, ‘We need a chapter. We need to deal with our seniors,’ and it wasn’t happening. And I couldn’t do it while pastoring, 50-60 hours some weeks. I just couldn’t do both of those things. I felt that if it needed to happen, it needs to happen now.”
Krieger won’t be paid for his work, because there is no official position yet. Much of what he is planning will be to create the structure to get funding for a Kansas City chapter. Krieger said he will look into applying for 501(c)3 nonprofit status for the group.
Krieger, 52, lives with his husband, Larry Bailey, in Kansas City. He said that their marriage has really helped him in his decision to embark on a new career. Krieger said he has Bailey’s support in pursuing this project, including health benefits.
Krieger said that when he first announced his plans to the Rev. Elder Nancy Wilson, the global leader of MCC, she asked him whether there was anything they could do to keep him on board. He told her: “It’s not anything the church is doing wrong. I just feel so drawn to this other opportunity, I can’t let it go.”
In order for SAGE to consider forming a chapter, he said, a board of directors must be in place and outreach programs that apply to seniors must be ready to go. Krieger plans to take a few days off in February after leaving Spirit of Hope and then begin the process of selecting board members. For now, the group will be called the LGBT Older Adults Task Force.
Housing is one of the issues that are important to LGBT seniors, he said. Many cities have created LGBT-specific senior apartments, and Krieger has already met with Mid-America Regional Council (MARC) to begin looking into that possibility for Kansas City. But whether people move to apartments or stay in their homes, Krieger said, “We also know that there is a large community of people who are aging and need a support system and structure.”
Krieger has also been involved in clinical pastoral education through St. Luke’s Hospital in Kansas City, including a program in counseling, hospice, death, grief, and more. He will remain involved in this program until April 8.
“It fits in so much with what I want to do with SAGE,” he said. “I can see … how it will help me with the advocacy of health care.”
Krieger said that Spirit of Hope MCC can choose an interim leader to serve while the congregation and board decide who will be their next pastor.
“There’s a potential interim process within MCC that they can tap into if they want to,” he said. “That person could be there as long as 18 months, depending on how the process goes. So my main goal is — after 28 years of being a member here and 14 years of being on staff — making sure that organization stays strong.”
One of Krieger’s plans before leaving MCC is to put together a community meeting for all LGBT groups in the Kansas City metro area.
“People have come to me and said they were concerned about the GLBT community and how do we get all people together,” he said. “So we’re thinking about facilitating a meeting at MCC in January before I leave. All are working for the community, but we’re all working separately from each other.”
Krieger said the MCC churches were founded by the Rev. Troy Perry years ago to serve a need in the LGBT community. “In the last 10 years that has shifted, because we’re not the only game in town and there are so many diverse groups needing a place to go.”
Krieger said that Spirit of Hope MCC has expanded to include many allies.
“It’s small, but it’s growing,” he said. “I would say it’s 8-9 percent right now. Some neighborhood people, some are friends of those going to the church, some come because they like a congregation that is affirming.”
In addition to providing ministry, MCC, like many congregations, serves as a meeting place for community groups. For example, the group of young LGBT singers called PerformOut KC leases meeting space.
Periodically, the congregation brings in ministers from MCC-affiliated churches in other cities. “We have people quite capable of preaching, but there’s something about bringing in somebody that has a connection to something bigger than ourselves,” Krieger said.
Although he won’t be serving as a minister at MCC, Krieger said he could continue work as a chaplain or as a minister with other MCC churches as long as he keeps up his credentials with the national MCC organization.
The congregation also has a pantry program for people in need, and through MCC member Eddy Potter, they host concerts, parking-lot block parties and other social events. MCC bought its building in 1990, and although the church is still paying the mortgage, Krieger said he felt proud of the many upgrades he has helped with, including all new stained-glass windows, an upgraded sound system, new lighting and more.
“I’ve really worked hard the last five years to make this a community church,” he said.
Now the community will benefit again as Krieger takes on his new role forming a chapter of SAGE. Raising money for this chapter, Krieger said, will involve networking and making connections in the community.
“I think I’ve got that. Because of my 10 years of ministry as a pastor and 28 years of being involved in the community, I think people trust me, that they really believe I will accomplish what I’ve planned,” he said.