Founded in 1925, St. Stephen and the Incarnation Episcopal Church has had an enduring history of community activism, support, and aid for those that come through its doors. Its congregation helped introduce female priests into the national Episcopal Church, provided a safe space for anyone seeking shelter during the 1968 riots that occurred after the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and continues to host numerous local organizations that support others in the community. Perhaps for these reasons and others, punk bands felt comfortable and welcomed to play their shows in the church, creating a relationship that lasts today.
Since the 1950s, St. Stephen’s progressive nature has brought together people of different identities, and by the 1980s, it extended a hand to local punk bands as well. In addition to the church’s efforts to build relationships, Ian Mackaye, member of the popular punk bands Teen Idles and Fugazi, grew up going to church at St. Stephen. As more punk bands started playing at the church, a new community organization known as Positive Force saw an opportunity to spur activism and change alongside the punk movement.
Mark Andersen and Kevin Mattson founded Positive Force in 1985 after seeing increasing levels of violence and hate speech in punk culture, and wanted to combat hatred with political activism. Positive Force hosted their first benefit concert at St. Stephen that same year, and has since hosted numerous shows to raise awareness and fundraise for a wide range of social issues, with the church continually serving as a welcoming venue. The concerts at the church brought together political activism and music in support of marginalized and oppressed communities, reclaiming the punk image from the hatred and violence that others had spread.
Even today, St. Stephen serves as a beloved venue for punk concerts and the community, with Coricky, another band MacKaye is a member of, playing a free show there in February 2020. St. Stephen also hosts community organizations focused on music education and programming for at-risk youth in the area. The church provided not just a place to play music, but a platform for the young punks of DC to create change for others as well.
This site is a stop on the Exploring DC's Go-Go and Punk Music Scenes Tour.