Jesus said, “Everything that the Father gives me will come to me, and anyone who comes to me I will never drive away…”
On October 12, twenty years ago, Matthew Shepard, a 21 year old student at the University of Wyoming, was beaten, tied to a fence and left to die. This brutal hate crime seared the nation’s collective conscience and changed the terms of debate regarding laws that failed to protect the lives and basic civil rights of LGBTQ persons. Judy and Dennis Shepherd have since dedicated their lives to ensure that others are spared the same horrific fate at the hands of those consumed by hatred.
At their request, Matthew’s remains will be interred at Washington National Cathedral on Friday, October 26th, following a public service of thanksgiving and celebration of Matthew’s life. I’m honored to join the Rt. Rev. V. Gene Robinson in presiding, and all are welcome to attend.
Matthew’s mother told Dean Hollerith, “We’ve given much thought to Matt’s final resting place. We found Washington National Cathedral is an ideal choice, as Matt loved the Episcopal Church and felt welcomed by his church in Wyoming. . .It’s reassuring to know he now will rest in a sacred spot where folks can come to reflect on creating a safer, kinder world.”
In his public statement, Dean Hollerith said, “Matthew Shepard’s death is an enduring tragedy affecting all people and should serve as an ongoing call to the nation to reject anti-LGBTQ bigotry and instead embrace each of our neighbors for who they are. In the years since Matthew’s death, the Shepard family has shown extraordinary courage and grace in keeping his spirit and memory alive, and the Cathedral is honored and humbled to serve as his final resting place.”
Our sons were in elementary school when Matthew was murdered. We were blessed to be part of an Episcopal church with many gay and lesbian members, some of whom were Matthew’s age and others were raising children of their own. I’ll never forget the look of fear in their eyes as we tried to absorb the horror of this crime. Twenty years ago, our church was in the minority of Episcopal churches that fully included LGBTQ persons. The Church’s official positions discriminated against them, as did many of our civic laws. I’m grateful for what has changed.
Five years ago, Washington National Cathedral hosted the premiere screening of a highly awarded documentary film about Matthew’s life, Matt Shepard Is A Friend of Mine. The decision to inter Matthew’s physical remains there reflects the gratitude the Shepard family has for the love and welcome Matthew experienced in the Episcopal Church, and our commitment to pursue justice for LGBTQ persons.
The Episcopal Church, our diocese, and Washington National Cathedral have a long history of seeking to right the wrongs done purportedly in God’s name against LGBTQ persons. I am grateful the Episcopal Church now unequivocally affirms that LGBTQ people are beloved children of God, that they are loved by God not in spite of their identities, but as the people God created them to be. I’m also grateful that we now welcome the full participation of LGBTQ people in the Church’s life, including in the sacraments of marriage and ordination.
Not everything has changed in the last 20 years. It’s quite likely that certain religious groups will protest outside the Cathedral service, and violence is a real threat against LGBTQ persons and other minorities. Thus I am also grateful that Matthew’s remains will be safe from the threat of desecration. In welcoming his physical remains, we renew our commitment to join Dennis and Judy Shepard in their efforts to make the world a kind and safe place for all.
To hear the Shepards speak of their son, take a few minutes to watch Matthew Shepard’s Story or the movie trailer for Matt Shepard Is a Friend of Mine. You’ll be glad that you did. Then join us, in person or livestream, at Washington National Cathedral on Friday, October 26th, when we celebrate and give thanks for Matthew Shepard’s life.