Faith, God & Family: Celebrating Matthew Shepard’s Life & Giving His Death Meaning

Matthew ShepardJudy Shepard talking at the ADL, Boston earlier this year
Photo: TRT/Steve Jewett

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By: Paul P. Jesep*/TRT Columnist—

Matthew Shepard was brutally taken from his family and friends over twenty years ago. The world also lost a gentle, courageous soul at only 21 years of age. He lived his truth and showed others the importance of being authentic in a cold, complicated world.

Matt seemed to be an old soul in a young body. October marked the 20th anniversary of his murder. Last month his ashes were interred at Washington National Cathedral.

According to Matt’s mother, Judy Shepard, she and her husband had “given much thought to Matt’s final resting place, and we found the Washington National Cathedral is an ideal choice, as Matt loved the Episcopal church and felt welcomed by his church in Wyoming.”

In 1976, a year before Matt was born, the Episcopal Church formally declared that “homosexual persons are children of God who have a full and equal claim with all other persons upon the love, acceptance, and pastoral concern and care of the Church.”

A lot has changed since 1998. Significant steps have been made to advance LGBTQ civil and human rights. The Episcopal Church, since Matt’s death, elevated a gay priest to bishop, Gene Robinson. The Episcopal Church also formally decided that God’s call to be a priest was open to everyone and it made the rite of marriage open to all.

The Cathedral of the Episcopal Diocese of Washington D.C. is “dedicated to serving as a house of prayer for all people and a spiritual home for the nation.” Bishop Robinson participated in the ceremony to welcome Matt and inter his ashes.

There is extraordinary symbolism for Matt being interred at the National Cathedral. Funerals for Presidents Dwight Eisenhower, Gerald Ford, and Ronald Reagan were held there. Helen Keller and Admiral George Dewey are among the notables buried at the Cathedral. The last sermon Martin Luther King Jr. shared with the world was from its pulpit.

There are other faith traditions, including non-Christian, forcefully advocating for the LGBTQ community. National Cathedral, though Episcopalian, welcomes all Americans no matter one’s faith or spirituality.

Matt’s legacy is something to be grateful for as family and friends come together for a Thanksgiving meal this month. In addition, and as you know, the season of gift giving is near. Most people in your life really don’t need another item. In many cases, it will be accepted with a forced smile and later re-gifted also to someone who didn’t need or want it. Please consider a donation in someone’s name to the Matthew Shepard Foundation.

Matt’s foundation has done extraordinary work empowering, supporting, and comforting LGBTQ youth through a variety of venues. This has included helping to enact the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr., Hate Crimes Prevention Act of 2009.

He never intended it, but Matt is a martyr. Martyrs are those who are murdered. They live and die by values and truthful principles reverberating in the cosmos without regard to the parochial pettiness of the temporal world. Matt was bigger than all of it due, in part, to his authenticity knowing the Creator loved him unconditionally. He had a connection to the universe and all its holiness.

Matthew, rest in peace. You’re now in the spiritual heart of America. It’s where you belong.

*Paul is a personal chaplain, seminary trained priest, and lawyer in greater Albany, NY. He’s also the author of “Lost Sense of Self & the Ethics Crisis.”

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