Former Parliament Trustee Honored in His Own Town

Emeritus trustee of the Parliament, Dr. Paul Eppinger, was recently honored at the 11th annual Golden Rule Awards Banquet sponsored by the Arizona Interfaith Movement. One thousand people gathered at the Mesa, Arizona, Convention Center April 7 to witness the presentation of the inaugural “Paul Eppinger Interfaith Award” to the very person for whom the award has been named. As Parliament Chair, I was privileged to be on the program to introduce the Parliament and, much more importantly, to introduce my colleague and interfaith hero Paul, prior to the presentation of the award.

My friendship with Paul Eppinger dates from 2008 when we met as members of the Interfaith Relations Commission of the National Council of Churches. As fellow progressive Baptists, we had much in common, and it became immediately evident that Paul was highly respected and well-liked by representatives of the 25 or more Christian communions and denominations who sat with us around the conference table. Occasionally, Paul’s delightful soulmate, Sybil—his wife of 57 years, would come with him to the semi-annual meetings, and the three of us would enjoy a meal together as our friendship and mutual appreciation grew.

It was no surprise, when my wife Janie and I attended the 2009 Parliament of the World’s Religions in Melbourne, Australia, to discover that Paul and Sybil were there with some volunteers from the Arizona Interfaith Movement. As always, Paul was enthusiastic, energetic, and effervescent—engaged and eager to introduce us to “his gang” from Arizona.

When I became the Chair of the Nominations Committee of the Parliament in 2013, the first person that I knew I would recommend for trusteeship was Paul Eppinger. My hunch about Paul’s candidacy was correct, and the members of the committee, and then the full Board of Trustees, unanimously elected him. And what a trustee he has been! He has served faithfully on committees and attended all of our meetings, except the most recent when his personal struggles with health prevented his coming to Chicago. What he brought to our Trustee meetings—besides Arizona Interfaith Movement calendars and numerous inspiring stories—was an obvious love for all people, a profound commitment to global peace, personal integrity and wisdom, and deep and abiding faith. In March 2015, once again the trustees voted unanimously for Paul, that time to endorse his being given the inaugural Golden Rule Award, which was presented to him just before Karen Armstrong spoke at the Golden Banquet of the Salt Lake City Parliament last October.

Dr. Eppinger’s stellar career has brought him many accolades, honors, and awards. In his work first as a pastor of inner-city churches, then as the Executive Director of the Arizona Ecumenical Council, and most recently as Executive Director of the Arizona Interfaith Movement, he’s consistently advocated for causes that safeguard the human rights of all peoples. As the statewide director for the “Victory Together Campaign,” he was successful in leading Arizona to establish the Martin Luther King, Jr., holiday. He took up his hammer to join in the Jimmy Carter Habitat for Humanity Build 2002 in Durban, South Africa, where they built 100 homes in five days and Paul was able to demonstrate his compassion for others. And, because of his vision and effort, Arizona citizens can purchase official state automobile license plates with “Live the Golden Rule” embossed on them. Most of all, he has touched the lives of hundreds of people over the years, many of whom he invited to sit down for coffee and conversations that would ultimately change their perspectives and lives.

As a Christian, I recall that Jesus is reported to have said, in the Gospel of Matthew 13:57, “Prophets are not without honor except in their own country and in their own house.” While I understand the context for this statement, I must say that Paul Eppinger has experienced a measure of recognition that seems to be an exception to Jesus’ wise dictum. Surrounded by his wife and four daughters and their families on that stage, and facing a thousand admirers from his home country who were on their feet applauding this gentle and good-humored man, Paul deservedly discovered that his prophetic work among them had been found both pleasing and honorable. Well done, my friend, well done!

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