November 26, 2023
[Our service this Sunday was memorial for our friend, member and Steward, Vince Shepherd. Below is a biography of Vince followed by Trish Nemore’s eulogy.]
Vincent Juarez Shepherd – Biography
Vincent Juarez Shepherd was born September 20, 1957, in Chicago, Illinois, where he remained as a young adult, working at Bankers Life and Casualty. He moved to San Diego, California, in the early 2000s, then came to Washington, DC. Here Vince worked as a cook at Charlie’s Place, a feeding program for the homeless out of Saint Margaret’s church in DC, then in the kitchen of the Hebrew Home in Rockville, Maryland. He was a lover of music, films, photography, professional sports, and cooking. Vincent was open to new ideas when he learned vegetarian cooking after he was asked to cook for this church’s adult education classes. He was so devoted to his own mission group that he became a church Steward when previous Stewards moved away and the group was in danger of losing its mission group status. Known for his dapper appearance, Vince had a keen eye for quality goods at yard sales and secondhand stores. After retirement, he volunteered at Charlie‘s Place.
Vince is survived by his mother, Annie Green; sisters, Ora Lynelle Shepherd, Gina Askew, and Hope Hodges; and numerous nieces and nephews and great nieces and great nephews.
“Commitment, Curiosity and Caring about Others: Remembering our friend, Vincent Juarez Shepherd” by Patricia Nemore
When Vince Shepherd arrived at Seekers Church more than a decade ago, he was working as the breakfast cook at Charlie’s Place, a feeding program for homeless people at St. Margaret’s Church near Dupont Circle. His housing situation at the time was not ideal and my spouse, Pat Conover, invited Vince to live with us for a while as he looked for something better. While he was with us, I observed Vince’s reliability and commitment to his job at Charlie’s Place. On cold winter mornings, he’d bundle up in the warm clothes he knew to wear because he was a Chicago man born and bred, and he’d leave our house in the pitch dark around 4:30 to get to the metro when it opened at 5. I assure you that I did not witness this often but I know he did it. Every day. Faithfully. Holidays were problematic because metro opened later and Charlie’s Place did not provide Vince with special transportation to accommodate that situation. And yet he went.
Vince loved preparing a big breakfast for the men who came there but occasionally things would get hard for him when the guests acted out or exhibited behaviors that Vince was trying to leave behind in his life. Still, he remained faithful to the job and is much beloved by many folks there, including some who are with us here today. When Vince retired from a different kitchen job recently, he decided to volunteer at Charlie’s Place weekly. I know how much he loved going back there every Thursday.
Vince has been a committed member of Seekers Church all these years. As a Black man in a predominantly White congregation, it can’t have always been comfortable for him and yet he made friends and connections and found ways to give to the church and be involved in community life. Like setting up our chairs for worship, like cooking for the School for Christian Growth (our adult education program), where, over time, he was asked to shift his recipes to be vegetarian then vegan. Those of you who know Vince know he is a meat man – he’s from Chicago after all – but he took the time and energy to find good meatless recipes when asked to do so.
Vince also committed to Seekers Church by joining a mission group that is one of several small groups we have that we consider to be important places of belonging within the larger congregation. His mission group was very important to him. If you’ve read the biography in the program, you will know that Vince was so devoted to the group that he became a church Steward when previous Stewards moved out of the group and it was in danger of losing its mission group status. I don’t think Vince enjoyed the kind of organizational decision making that is required of Stewards but he nonetheless recommitted to the group every year.
We each have stories of Vince’s love of music, or movies, or sports, or shopping for additions to his outstanding wardrobe, or his life in Chicago, or visiting a favorite uncle in NYC. For myself, I confess I did not fully appreciate Vince’s wide-ranging curiosity until I helped him clean out storage bins not long ago and came across literally reams of print-outs from the Internet about world leaders, celebrities, interesting places and various religions and philosophies. I think if anyone mentioned something to Vince that he wasn’t familiar with, he’d research it and print out the results for further perusal
Not long ago, our School for Christian Growth had a class exploring the need for reparations for the theft of so much over the centuries by white people from people of color. At the outset of the class, Vince was one of only two people of color in it. We were grateful for his presence and participation and also realized that the discussion would affect him very differently from how it would affect the white people in the class. At one point, he noted that while many of us could trace our ancestry back hundreds of years, his family couldn’t really do that. And, as Linda Nunes-Schrag reminded some of us last week, Vince said a resounding Yes when asked at the end of the class if White people owed Black people an apology for hundreds of years of theft.
Cleaning out his apartment with Vince’s mother, Annie Green, and his sister, Lynelle Shepherd, Dave Lloyd came across a prayer for peace and justice that Vincent had written and offered to Seekers in 2014. The prayer was written after the death of Michael Brown and focused on issues of police violence but Vince started by recognizing world turmoil in places like Ukraine and the Middle East. He noted the interconnectedness of all of it. Wow. That prayer could have been written yesterday.
After decades of renting rooms in others’ houses, Vince got his own apartment in Rockville this past July. He was getting sicker at the time, as his prostate cancer had metastasized to several organs, and some of us worried about him moving so far from the church. As long as I’ve known Vince, he has never lived more than three miles from the church and from many members. But we also knew how important that apartment was to him and indeed, he was in heaven there. He rhapsodized to all about having his own place and seeing the trees outside his window every morning when he first woke up. After many decades of hard struggle, he’d settled down in a place of his own.
Just before I began speaking, we sang the hymn “I’ll Fly Away”. This was chosen by Vince’s family, reflecting a dream Vince shared with his mother very recently. He told her that he’d dreamed that he was flying – not in an airplane, but like a bird. Indeed. Vince had finally found his last home on earth from which he could Fly Away.
We wish you a sweet flight, dear friend. May God’s breath lift your wings to the sky.