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A Tribute to Friend Stephen Matchett

A well known and loved Quaker in the San Francisco Bay Area, Stephen Matchett, died on Tuesday, May 19, 2020. Stephen was a member of San Francisco Monthly Meeting of the Religious Society of Friends. I was not a close friend of Stephen’s but I did spend a fair amount of time with him, especially while riding bicycles.

Stephen died on the anniversary of the death of my friend, housemate, and bicycle activist Bob Berry. May 19 is the birthdate of political activist Malcolm X, who would have been 95 on the day Stephen died.

Stephen was a political activist. He was probably best known as a facilitator and organizer with Alternatives to Violence Project (AVP). AVP was developed by Quakers to teach conflict resolution skills for people in prison. In recent years, AVP has expanded beyond prisons and conducts workshops for those who want to end violence in their communities. Stephen would travel to prisons throughout California on his bicycle, carrying all the workshop materials he needed on his bike. Stephen was very organized in his ability to pack and transport large loads.

Stephen not only traveled everywhere by bike and public transit, he made a decision to never ride in a private vehicle for the rest of his life. This included regular Quaker gatherings in California, such as College Park Quarterly Meeting and Pacific Yearly Meeting.

During one Pacific Yearly Meeting session held at Walker Creek Ranch in Marin County, those of us who pedaled to the meeting gathered for a group photo before the ride home. I use that photo for my Twitter profile page. Stephen is the tallest in the group and next to me on my right.

PYM Walker Creek

When I was editor of the Strawberry Creek Monthly Meeting newsletter, I would fill blank spaces with quotations from Quakers and other activists in the peace, environmental, and social justice movements. One of my quotes came from Stephen Matchett. It was at a yearly meeting at Walker Creek Ranch that Stephen spoke at a meeting for worship before plenary. “Tell me more about this God you don’t believe in. Chances are I don’t believe in that God either.” When I asked for his permission to use the quote, Stephen said he wasn’t sure if his statement was original. Well, it is original enough for me. I used it several times.

Stephen did believe in God. He facilitated Bible study sessions during yearly and quarterly meetings. I found it interesting that an openly gay man would have no problem in leading discussions on the Bible. Stephen has helped me deal with my own issues with Christianity and become more comfortable with a book I used to consider a source of oppression.

I would talk to Stephen during travel to and from the spring session of College Park Quarterly Meeting. The spring meeting is usually held during the third weekend in May at Ben Lomond Quaker Center in the Santa Cruz mountains. We would both travel by use of train, bus, and bike. While I took Amtrak’s Capitol Corridor from Berkeley to San Jose, Stephen used CalTrain from San Francisco. During one of our last conversations, Stephen was debating not renewing his driver’s license and just caring a non driver’s ID card.

Spring quarterly meeting was held this past weekend, May 15-17. Unfortunately, due to the pandemic, it was conducted via Zoom, instead of at Ben Lomond.

Early this spring, Stephen was diagnosed with a brain tumor and spent his final days at the Coming Home Hospice in San Francisco.

On the day of Stephen’s passing, his brother David posted the following to Stephen’s Caring Bridge site.

Stephen is no more Stephen —

I went over about 3 after the chaplain said “it’s now.” It’s meaning the world to me that I got to be there. 

He was breathing when I went in, I called my parents to say I was there, I read him something my father had written him, then something from my cousin, and played him a message someone had recorded for him today, and then when I was returning the chaplain’s call we talked about how you could tell, and I said, well, it looks like his chest isn’t moving. So somewhere in there he stopped breathing, and I couldn’t say when. But there was no sigh, no gasp, no struggle — I can’t imagine a more peaceful way to leave.

This won’t be the last post here, but it’s the last post from a day when Stephen was with us. Entering a new reality (all of us).

In 2013, Stephen led a Quaker Center weekend workshop titled “Come As You Are: Reading the Bible with Friends.” The announcement includes the following biography.

Stephen Matchett is a Quaker by birth and by convincement, and a 30-year member of San Francisco Monthly Meeting. Once an appellate criminal defense lawyer, he now spends much of his time facilitating conflict resolution workshops in prisons and in the community with the Alternatives to Violence Project (AVP). In recent years he has had an active traveling ministry among unprogrammed Friends, offering presentations on reading early Quaker writers and on Friends’ beliefs, and following a call to support and encourage contemporary Quakers’ (re)acquaintance and engagement with the Bible. In recent years he has been convening early morning Bible study at College Park Quarterly and Pacific Yearly Meetings, and the growing number of Friends finding meaning in those sessions led him to offer this program last year and to agree to offer it again this year upon request.

May 20, 2020 - Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

3 Comments »

  1. Tom, This is a really lovely tribute to Stephen. I wish I had known him better, but only saw him a couple of times in the Bible study group he led at PYM. He was a very special person. Kathy

    Comment by Kathy Barnhart | May 20, 2020 | Reply

  2. Thank you, Tom, for this remembrance. Stephen was a pillar of the Christian Friends Conference and a friend to Berkeley Friends Church. He led the final retreat BFC had at the Quaker Center, on Barclay’s Apology, and it was a favored time. I am very sorry this great loss to Pacific Yearly Meeting and AVP.

    Comment by Brian Young | May 20, 2020 | Reply

  3. Thank you so much for this lovely and loving memory of Stephen Matchett. It makes me long for PYM–so grateful to learn more about Stephen!

    Comment by Anne Nesbet | May 21, 2020 | Reply


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