A Rich Tapestry
One of the early stories about STC concerned the fact that many of its founders were gay and lesbian. If you were openly gay and visited a suburban church in the early days, you were often advised that "you might be more comfortable" at STC. So entrenched was this view, that when in later years the UUA embarked on a national effort to make its congregations more welcoming of queer folks, a few suburban congregations actually asked for token gays from STC to sit in on their internal discussions of homophobia.
STC on the other hand regularly participated in Pride events, provided a platform for Queer Theologians such as Elias Farajaje Jones, and has always had a queer presence in leadership.
One of my fondest memories was a board meeting when the straight members fought bravely to preserve a STC presence at the DC Gay Pride march against the wishes of some queer board members who were afraid of a backlash. Later over dinner, many expressed astonishment that Gay Pride meant so much to the straight members of the congregation.
The Role of Black Women
The leadership of black women has always figured prominently within STC. A black woman minister along with about a dozen people from surrounding UU churches founded the congregation. Several of the founding members were established powerhouses within the black community and within the larger UU movement. Many of these founding black women are still active today.
Strong black leadership from women ensured that racial diversity was a reality and not a pipe dream. These pivotal women were anything but traditional church ladies. They held office as president as well as other executive positions including at large board members, directed social action programs, led task forces and committees, spoke from the pulpit as minister and lay leaders, represented the congregation within community coalitions and held national positions within the UUA.
As one gay member has expressed time and time again, "It's because of the strong black women of STC that I keep coming back".
The one thing STC has always had a short supply of was straight men, especially straight black men. Many reasons have been offered, including the presence of so many strong black women and the openly gay presence. But the reality is that in DC, black men are a minority in churches generally. So the question is not where are the black het men, but what keeps the black women (straight, bi or lesbian) presence so consistent? The answer may lie in the music, the services and the leadership style.
A key feature of STC is that almost all of its members are activists. Almost every movement for racial, social and economic justice has a representative within our rolls. This means that most of us are way too busy saving the world most times to keep STC running and in health. And anyone who does take time to keep the congregation going does so at great personal expense, physically, emotionally and sometimes financially.
The other side of the coin, is the reason given by these same activists for joining STC, they desperately needed the spiritual support in order to keep up the fight. So every time, STC tries to close its doors due to a lack of volunteers, these activists come out of woodwork screaming, "No, we need STC." Apparently the church's very existence helps those who never even have time to attend regularly.
Pagans also figured prominently in the beginnings of STC. At least one of the founders was a witch, with still others identifying as pagans. Over the years, because STC provided a welcoming space for pagan ritual in the Sunday Services, the number of witches has steadily increased.
Dark Flame Coven (DFC) was in fact formed primarily through connections made at STC. The relationship between DFC and STC is long and at times so intermingled that during one period, the STC board members referred to "our choir, our committees and our coven".
DFC had celebrated Beltane and Samhain at STC for several years, and in recent years its members has taken over the Equinox/Solstice services, lead the Sunday services committee, and taught more than a few ministers the fine art of ritual. Currently a coven member acts as part time minister and the coven runs the entire Sunday service program.
In effect the pagans generally and DFC in particular, brought a key ingredient to the already high commitment to dynamic, unique and diverse spiritual experiences - ritual construction and the allure of magic.