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LAKE CITY, Ark. — Whatever challenges might exist for Pagans living in a Bible Belt, members of the Southern Delta Church of Wicca seem to have overcome them in the tiny community of Lake City. Last month, members of this branch of the Aquarian Tabernacle Church led the local Christmas parade with their float, which depicted halls being decked for Yule. That honor arose from the fact that in 2016, their float took first prize for the same event.

ATC float which won top honors in 2016 [courtesy].

Terry Riley, high priest of the church, said that they received an invitation to participate a year ago this past December, and readily agreed. “It was the first time [city leaders] had recognized us as being part of the community,” he said, and came as a result of many years of effort to get the 25-year-old institution integrated.

Back in 2012, for example, church members obtained a donation of $5,000 in building supplies per month from the local Home Depot management, which they used to help struggling neighbors with home repairs. Participating in such ways is very much a part of what this church is about, and the parade invitation signaled that acceptance itself was the reward.

“It’s taken our church a long time and a lot of getting out there within our community . . . to eventually become a part of our community and have a rightful place along with the other faiths in our town,” Riley said.

It’s a reflection of something he teaches to upcoming clergy in the church: “People do not care how much you know until they first find out how much you care, and leaders are willing to do what others aren’t willing to do.”

The float they put together that year — that of Old Man Winter and Mother Nature wishing everyone a happy Yule — won the “best church float” prize, besting out floats entered under the auspices of five Christian churches. Riley and his high priestess, Ivy Moon, played the titular characters.

Ivy Moon and Terry Riley, dressed as Mother Nature and Old Man Winter in 2016 [courtesy].

Winning on the first try got attention, but it was friendly. This year, the other floats were all a step up in quality, and the Pagan entry didn’t get a prize. However, being at the head of the parade was an honor nonetheless.

“As we rolled down the street the crowds were excited and positively proclaimed, ‘Here come the Wiccans,’  Riley recalled.

The Baptist entry, modeled on Noah’s ark, took the top prize, and the pastor there since remarked to Riley’s son that it was the Pagans who made it possible. As Riley recounted it, the pastor said, “Last year when your father and his church showed up with that great float, I thought to myself, ‘Finally, some friendly competition.’ ”

Such a success is a testament to what organization looks like. Riley said that every church member was involved, in the least by obtaining decorations, with six building the float and another renting and driving the U-Haul.

When the Baptists take the place of honor in Lake City this coming December, they would be advised to look over their shoulders. Riley said that plans are already in the works to create a float based on A Christmas Carol.