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AAC Profile: Rev. Eileen L Epperson

February 6, 2017

The Ambassador Advisory Council (AAC) is made up of Parliament Ambassadors who dedicate their time, effort, and professional experience to develop and improve the Ambassador program.
This month we interviewed Reverend Eileen L. Epperson of Salisbury, Connecticut, USA.
Rev. Eileen L. Epperson
Tell us a little about yourself Eileen.
I am a hospice chaplain and bereavement counselor and a spiritual director. I lead eight grief support groups weekly during the school year. I live with my dog, Max, in a lovely community in rural N.W. Connecticut. I have family spread out across the U.S. but none close to me. I love to read and I knit and crochet. I am a fan of great movies and the arts in general. For fun, I sometimes perform in community theatre.
How did you get involved in interfaith work?
Starting when I was 16, I took a private seminar which was not related to any institution, the Interior Life Seminar. For over three years of weekly seminar meetings, I was the youngest of the 8-9 seminar students who were all adults. We read primary material in the great religions as well as the lives of holy people in those traditions. There was a real freedom of spirit to be drawn to a faith or a philosophy that touched the mind and heart. That experience of spiritual freedom to follow any path as well as pick-and-choose what delighted in any tradition, has never been replicated in my life, except when I have taught The Interior Life Seminar myself. When I was in my early 30s, I had a call to ordained ministry. I wanted to be a spiritual guide for others in the way that I had been guided as a 16-19-year-old.
You work as a hospice chaplain and bereavement counselor – does the spiritual care you offer people at the end of life compare to how you approach people in your daily life?
I am more sensitive, gentle and alert with patients and the bereaved than I am normally. But there is no question in my mind that the way of being which I practice in those specific settings does carry through to listening to friends and the way in which I treat service people, etc.
You are a chaplain and a spiritual director, in what other interreligious work are you engaged?
I am in the Doctor of Ministry program at Hartford Seminary, an interfaith graduate institution. I have been taking courses for the past year with Jews and Muslims which has been extraordinary. I talk about the Parliament and my role as an Ambassador whenever the opportunity arises. It is amazing how many people have not heard of the Parliament. I am aiming to change that, at least at the seminary.
How has your doctorate program inspired you in regards to your interfaith work?
I am attending an interfaith seminary, Hartford Seminary, which is one of a kind in this country. The Abrahamic traditions are in full swing as we all study together. There are occasional courses on eastern religions (an overview course last summer and currently, a course on Buddhism is being offered). In HartSem classes that foster sensitive engagement with each other, dialogues have helped me to go deeper in Judaism and Islam. My doctoral project will be training a pilot group to facilitate a powerful, four-part process forgiveness process which I created many years ago. I do this one-to-one and lead workshops on forgiveness.
What do you most enjoy about working with people from faiths outside of your own?
The stretch. The ouch. The aha.
What do you find most challenging in regard to your interfaith effort?
The stretch. The ouch. The aha.
You are clearly passionate about the Parliament. How did you become involved?
Someone told me about the upcoming 1993 Parliament, or I might have read about it. I knew immediately that I would go and I wanted to offer a program there. I worked with a mentor for several months to get myself up to speed to be able to make a proposal and stand up and deliver a workshop at such an illustrious gathering, which I did: “Envisioning a World Without Religious Violence.” I loved that event in Chicago so much.
You talk about presenting a program at the 1993 Parliament, how would the program be delivered today, given all your experience within the interfaith community?
My workshop in 1993 was entitled, “Envisioning a World Without Religious Violence.” Still appropriate, sad to say. It could be offered today by making examples more current and doing more to prepare the participants to use their imaginations before doing the guided visualization. I would revisit this visualization and revamp the whole program, but the central theme and content would be the same: envisioning and standing for a world we want, rather than constantly complaining about the world we don’t want.
Your love for the Parliament really shines. Can you share with us your background as an Ambassador?
In May 2009, a staff person from the Parliament office contacted me and asked if I would be an Ambassador for the upcoming Melbourne Parliament. This would entail telling people about it, making presentations, enrolling participants and generally going on loudspeaker. I agreed without any hesitation. There was some good action by Ambassadors at that Parliament, particularly with The Listening Project, but the Ambassador program virtually disappeared in 2010 just after the Parliament in Melbourne was over.
You are one of the founding members of the AAC, how did that come about?
In late 2011 I took a stand to renew the Ambassador program and found a couple of partners in Kay Lindahl and Shareda Hosein. We worked hard to reconnect with the 2009 Ambassadors, work with the staff at the time, and create an application form, guidelines and eventually, an Ambassador Advisory Council.
You’ve had tremendous Parliament experiences over the past 20+ years. What do you feel has been the most important lesson you have learned through your involvement?
How many people are like me! Passionate and fascinated by diverse cultures and ways of seeing the world and creation. Other curious and committed people are out there. We are quite different in so many ways, and what a good challenge and pleasure to explore those differences. Of course, surprising connections and similarities also arise.
What do you consider the most rewarding experience of your work with the Parliament?
Being with the Ambassadors and creating the Ambassador Advisory Council. The people are absolutely great. And the Parliaments are always breathtaking and joy-filled for me.
What event (that you organized or attended) on behalf of the Parliament was your favorite?
I would have to go back to 1993 when the whole vision of interfaith cooperation came on my radar. I loved every second of it. Seeing H.H. The Dalai Lama in Grant Park was the highpoint of my life up to that point.
What are the critical issues that matter most to you, and how are you taking a lead to work on those issues?
I look contextually at issues. There are many critical issues at stake right now, and I think the climate crisis is first and center. I see the means to resolving 99% of all disagreements, confusion, bad behavior, misunderstandings, etc., is communication training and forgiveness training. I recently did a training in Reflective Dialogue at HartSem which affirmed and strengthened my skills at mediating difficult conversations. My “Conflict Management Training” from last April with the Lombard-Mennonite Peace Center was also extraordinary and I would like to use it much more than I am.
*Please note: Interview has been edited for length, brevity or clarity.