From the Worldwide Faith News archives

TITLE: Troy Perry Reports on Funeral Service of Matt Shepard

Date 19 Oct 1998 17:21:22

A Message from The Rev. Elder Troy Perry

Moderator of the Universal Fellowship of Metropolitan Community Churches

An Update On Services for Matt Shepard - Oct. 19, 1998

Dear Friends:

I returned last night from the funeral and memorial services for Matt Shepard.

I want to express my thanks to so many of you for your prayers for Matt's
family and friends -- and to give thanks to every church and community that
has held (or is planning to hold) a vigil to honor Matt's life and to rally
public attention to the tragedy of hate crimes against gays, lesbians,
bisexuals and transgendered people.

Reports are coming in to UFMCC Headquarters today from around the world about
the vigils our churches have held and I am just beginning to review these
moving reports.  

I can report that UFMCC's Mother Church, MCC Los Angeles, held a vigil last
Thursday evening in front of the UFMCC World Center which was attended by 5000
people -- the largest service in the history of MCC-LA. Police closed off
three blocks of Santa Monica Boulevard to handle the crowds which arrived for
the service and candlelight march. Our thanks go to The Rev. Elder Nancy
Wilson, Senior Pastor of MCC-LA, for organizing this vigil.

I felt deeply honored to represent the Universal Fellowship at funeral
services for Matt at St. Christopher's Episcopal Church in Laramie, Wyoming on
Friday. Without a doubt, it was one of the saddest funerals I have ever
attended. The church was filled, of course, and another church down the street
was opened to handle the overflow crowds. Three inches of snow had fallen
shortly before the service began -- and another five inches fell as a blizzard
hit during the service.

Fred Phelps and his supporters showed up with their terrible, cruel signs
announcing "God Hates Fags" and "Matt Is In Hell."  It wasn't anger I felt
toward Phelps -- is was an overwhelming sadness that they had so harshly and
viciously judged Matt's beautiful, innocent young life. I knew from my own
conversations with Matt's friends about Matt's deep spiritual commitment... of
his participation in the life of his church... of his gentle spirit that
identified with the oppressed.

Then something powerful and moving happened. Townspeople made a human barrier
between the Phelps' group and Matt's family members who were entering the
church. They turned their back on Phelps and formed a human blockade to shield
Matt's friends and family from the ugly signs and taunts.  That image made a
profound impact upon me; those townspeople represented the very best of

Then on Saturday, I spoke at the Community Memorial Service in Cheyenne,
Wyoming -- a powerful, moving experience. Those who were unable to attend the
funeral services had an opportunity to honor Matt and to pay their respects to
his too-brief life.

I must express my appreciation to some very special folks:

The first is The Rev. Mark Lee, pastor of MCC Light of the Plains, in
Cheyenne. Pastor Lee served as UFMCC's on-site representative to the
community, coordinated events with other GLBT organizations -- and represented
us with excellence on ABC's "Nightline" with Ted Koppel.

The second is The Rev. Dawn Wilder, director of UFMCC's flagship youth
ministry in West Hollywood.  Rev. Wilder accompanied me to Wyoming as an
official UFMCC representative. Her presence was so deeply appreciated that
local GLBT groups asked her to remain in Wyoming to provide support and
spiritual help to Matt's friends and fellow students. Please keep Dawn in your
prayers as she continues this important work this week.

I also want to acknowledge the work of The Rev. Dr. Mel White, UFMCC Minister
of Justice and Reconciliation. Dr. White has prepared a Justice Kit on
responding to the violence against Matt Shepard with Soulforce principles.
This kit will be distributed to all UFMCC churches and leaders within the next
few of days.

Finally, I want to express appreciation to The Rev. Elder Don Eastman, The
Rev. Justin Tanis, and Jim Birkitt for the excellent resource materials they
prepared for local churches.  The UFMCC Anti-Violence Resource Kit has been
requested from people around the world -- including officials at the National
Council of Churches/USA and the leadership of the United Methodist Church.
Pastors from many denominations, including Episcopal, UCC, Southern Baptist,
American Baptist, United Methodist, Presbyterian. Roman Catholic, Unitarian
and independent churches, have written to request the UFMCC Liturgical
Resources for Anti-Violence Vigils.

In Christ,
The Rev. Troy Perry
Moderator of UFMCC

UFMCC Director of Communications
UFMCC Communications Department
8704 Santa Monica Blvd.,  2nd Floor
West Hollywood, CA  90069

Tel. (310) 360-8640
Fax: (310) 360-8680



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