TAMPA — Julion Evans' family was gathered beside his casket when they got the call. His memorial service, scheduled to take place the next day at New Hope Missionary Baptist Church, was not going to happen.
The reason, they say: Evans was gay.
Pastor T.W. Jenkins, who heads the Tampa church, canceled the Aug. 2 service after several members complained, according to Evans' partner, Kendall Capers. They had seen his obituary in newspapers, which listed Capers as his husband.
Capers said the pastor told the family that to conduct a funeral for a gay man would be "blasphemous."
"We can't even have a dignified service like the next person could?" Capers said. "This is 2014, and we're still going through this."
Jenkins did not respond to several calls and visits from the Tampa Bay Times. No one answered the door at his Brandon home. A woman at the church business office said he was busy in meetings. Other church leaders listed in public records also declined to talk about the incident.
"Based on our preaching of the Scripture, we would have been in error to allow the service in our church," Jenkins said in an interview, according to WFLA-TV. "I'm not trying to condemn anyone's lifestyle, but at the same time I am a man of God, and I have to stand up for my principles."
Jenkins has been the head pastor of the Tampa church since 1995, according to the church website. In March, he delivered the opening invocation at Mayor Bob Buckhorn's annual state of the city address.
The church is described on its website as a "Christ centered" and "biblically based" place of worship. It offers ministries "open to visitors searching for a spirit-filled place to call home."
Evans, 42, died July 26 after a four-year battle with amyloidosis, an illness that claimed the lives of his father and brother.
He and Capers had been together for 17 years. They married last year in Maryland. Capers said his partner was kind, generous and supportive.
According to his obituary, Julion Evans was a Tampa native. He graduated from Hillsborough High School, where he was editor of the school paper, a member of the drama club and the school mascot.
His family arranged to have the funeral at New Hope Missionary Baptist to accommodate the sizable crowd expected.
The church agreed, Capers said. Then the obituary hit the papers. Then calls to the pastor.
Jenkins notified the family of the cancellation as they were attending Evans' wake at Blount & Curry Funeral Home in Oldsmar, Capers said.
"Immediately I jumped out of grieving husband mode and launched into disaster recovery mode," he said.
Capers got in touch with Blount & Curry managers and requested space for a funeral the next day.
"We were more than glad to accommodate them," said Debra Blanchette, a funeral director for Blount & Curry. "The service went real well."
Last Saturday, more than 200 people filed into Blount & Curry for the service. Capers said he is thankful to have celebrated Evans' life in a place with people who accepted them.
He said he plans to start a foundation in Evans' name to fund research for amyloidosis, an incurable disease that attacks bodily organs.
"He would give his last for somebody," Capers said. "I know he is looking down on me right now saying, 'Keep pushing, keep going, because something has to change here.' "
Times staff writer Richard Danielson contributed to this report. Contact Dan Sullivan at [email protected] or (813) 226-3386. Follow @TimesDan. Contact Katie Mettler at [email protected] or (727) 893-8913. Follow @kemettler.