}

Friday, October 26, 2018

Matthew Shepard to be Interred at Washington National Cathedral

Earlier today I ran across a press release from National Cathedral in Washington, DC:
Washington, DC – October 11, 2018: Matthew Shepard, who was murdered at 21 years old in 1998 in an anti-gay hate crime, will be interred at Washington National Cathedral following a service of thanksgiving and remembrance on Friday, Oct. 26, at the request of the Shepard family. This Friday, Oct. 12, is the 20th anniversary of Shepard’s death. The service will celebrate and recall Shepard’s life and will be followed by a private interment in the Cathedral crypt. The service will be presided over by the Right Rev. Mariann Edgar Budde, Episcopal Bishop of Washington, and the Right Rev. V. Gene Robinson, the first openly gay priest to be consecrated a bishop in the Episcopal Church.

“We’ve 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,” said Judy Shepard, Matthew’s mother. “For the past 20 years, we have shared Matt’s story with the world. 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.”

A longtime supporter of the full inclusion of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people in the life of the church, the Cathedral considers LGBTQ equality one of the great civil rights issue of the church in the 21st century. The Cathedral hosted its first same-sex wedding in 2010, and welcomed its first transgender preacher, the Rev. Cameron Partridge, to the Canterbury Pulpit in 2014.

“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,” said the Very Rev. Randolph Marshall Hollerith, dean of Washington National Cathedral. “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.”

Shepard will be one of approximately 200 people to have been interred in the Cathedral over the last century. Others interred at the Cathedral include President Woodrow Wilson; Bishop Thomas Claggett, the first Episcopal Bishop ordained on American soil; Helen Keller and her teacher Anne Sullivan; and U.S. Navy Admiral George Dewey.
The service will be steamed over YouTube (video below) while I’m asleep, however, it should be available as a recorded video afterward



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This caught me by complete surprise because I had no idea it was happening. That means I don’t know the backstory about how this came to be, how the timing was selected, etc. None of that matters, of course.

I have no use for organised religion, but I nevertheless think this is pretty awesome, though not for the religious aspects—that’s the family’s business. Instead, there are plenty of other reasons this is a good thing.

First, it’s important to have a celebration of Matthew’s life. The circumstances of his death made him a symbol and an inspiration around the world. The intolerance and hatred that killed him gave a face to everyday oppression in a way that resonated with “ordinary Americans”, and while of course they should have cared before, Matthew gave them a reason to care that statistics in a report never would. There’s more to say about that, but not here, not in this context. What matters is that he still provides inspiration.

The symbolism of being interred in the crypt at National Cathedral is important. The church strives to be “a house of prayer for all people and a spiritual home for the nation”, which makes him being placed there important for symbolic reasons, the nation symbolically engaging in a small re-balancing of the harm done to Matthew—and all the LGBT+ victims in America whose names we’ll never know.

Finally, there’s also a very practical thing here. If his remains were going to be interred anywhere, then the crypt at National Cathedral is a safe place. It’s among the least likely places that anti-LGBT+ extremists would be able to desecrate his grave, something I’m absolutely certain they would do were he interred in a conventional cemetery.

The fact that Matthew died 20 years ago this month means that holding the service and interment this month was logical. It marks an appropriate point to wrap up the 20-year anniversary remembrances.

This story is obviously not getting much media attention, based on the fact I’d entirely missed it until mere hours before the event, and then I saw it only by change when a Facebook friend shared a link the landing page for the event. Because of that, it will probably have little impact beyond those at the cathedral, at first, at least.

But there are reasons why this is a good thing to be happening. And if it brings some peace to Matthew’s family and friends, that would be the best result.

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