The video caught the eye of Travis Howser, co-founder of the Transients, a locally based group that hosts collaborative exhibits by local and national artists inside unused spaces.

"I realized that there was more there than just Pig Slop losing their home," Howser recounts, explaining his decision to post the clip himself — on the Luminary's Facebook wall. Within a minute and a half, he recalls, the embedded clip had been deleted. Within a few hours, it had disappeared from the Journey's website as well.

"I didn't get a message from [the McAnallys], or anything," Howser says. "All I saw is that it disappeared. To me that meant they were trying to hide something."

James and Brea McAnally
Jennifer Silverberg
James and Brea McAnally

Sipping a bourbon and ginger beer on the back patio of the Royale, James McAnally patiently insists (again) that the Luminary is not a Christian group and that he harbors no desire, covert or otherwise, to convert anyone.

He does, however, freely admit that he has a lot to learn about public relations.

"I don't think we've done a good job of explaining what the relationship is, in part out of the assumption that people would not be all right with it," he concedes.

Avoiding the issue has cost the Luminary financially; McAnally says some current and potential donors have ceased or decided not to initiate their support. (He declines to divulge who has backed off or how much money was involved.) Now he is eager to set the record straight.

McAnally says that about seven years ago, while he was a student at Washington University, he crossed paths with Rev. Darrin Patrick. A former high school "party jock" who'd found Jesus, Patrick earned a master's of divinity at Midwest Baptist Seminary in Kansas City and then, in 2002, founded the Journey. His aim: to touch the souls of athletes and artists — two cultures that he felt weren't connecting with a stodgy religious establishment.

The Journey typified the "emerging church" trend — a loose nationwide movement of young Christians who express their faith via nontraditional means. In the Journey's case, that included pumping Sufjan Stevens and rockabilly tunes through the sound system during services, putting together a series of sermons on atheism and talking theology over pale ales once a month at Schlafly Bottleworks. (The beer drinking rankled the teetotaling Missouri Baptist Convention, which publicly regretted having loaned money to the Journey when it moved in 2005 from its original base in Clayton to the former Holy Innocents Catholic Church on Reber Place, its current home.) By mid-decade the Journey's membership numbered in the hundreds and was doubling every year.

Darrin Patrick says McAnally stood out amid the flock as "an interesting guy," all the more so after the young man with the white-frame glasses sketched out his dream to open a nonprofit arts-resource center. Patrick was sufficiently impressed to offer the convent building free of charge. The Luminary was born.

McAnally took pains to set up his nonprofit as an entity that is completely separate from the church. His annual salary — $30,000, according to the Luminary's Internal Revenue Service Form 990 — is drawn from the Luminary's coffers. The group lists an additional $24,000 in salaries, shared between Brea McAnally and Sarrita Hunn, the Luminary's residency coordinator. (McAnally says most of his and Brea's income is generated by Brea's wedding photography business and her annual wedding-industry event, the Off White Wedding Show.)

Both McAnally and Patrick say the Journey handed over the keys to the convent with absolutely no strings attached — a "wall of separation" they insist has held firm, even as the Journey provides about 25 percent of the Luminary's $190,000 annual budget. (The church donates some cash to the nonprofit, but the in-kind donation of the convent space, valued at $34,000 comprises the bulk of its support.)

"We've never controlled their programming," says Patrick. "We don't even know all that they do."

How, then, might the Journey benefit from the Luminary's work?

"We don't simply want to build a good church, we want to be part of building a great city," Patrick responds. "We know that when the Luminary is doing what they do, we have a better city, a more creative city, a more beautiful city. That's what's in it for us."

Jill McGuire, executive director of the Regional Arts Commission, would seem to concur with Patrick's view. McGuire says she doesn't understand the conspiracy theories hovering over the Luminary.

"I can guarantee you there's nothing nefarious going on," says McGuire, whose group approved a $2,000 grant for the Luminary earlier this month. "People tend to see something connected to a religion and suspect that those religious beliefs are being funded unknowingly. That's just not true in our case."

Representatives from three other Luminary benefactors — the Missouri Arts Council, the Arts and Education Board and Downtown Now! — all say that not even an overt religious affiliation would disqualify the Luminary Center of the Arts from receiving grants. [Editor's note: In 2011 Riverfront Times presented the McAnallys with a MasterMind Award in recognition of their work at the Luminary.]

McAnally says he did nothing deceptive in establishing the Luminary as a secular nonprofit.

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