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Obituary: Canon Lisa Kei Eunson

by
28 July 2017

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The Very Revd Gerald Stranraer-Mull writes:

THE Revd Lisa Eunson, who died on 17 June, aged 63, fulfilled her dream when she became Rector of Ban­chory and of Kincardine O’Neil, on Royal Deeside, in 2006. She was an American whose grandfather had emigrated to the United States from the Shetland Islands, and she had many cousins in the beautiful nor­thern isles of Scotland, where the name of Eunson holds an honoured place.

She visited Shetland in 2005 while on sabbatical, after a first onset of cancer. On her return to the US, she resolved “to live her dream” and seek a ministry within the diocese of Aberdeen & Orkney. The tranquil countryside of Mid-Deeside, with its churches of St Ternan in Ban­chory and Christ Church in Kin­cardine O’Neil, beckoned.

Her ministry in Deeside was an immediate success, and soon she was known to almost everyone in the area — from children to the most elderly — simply as Lisa.

The con­gregations grew, in­­clud­ing many chil­dren and young people; in Ban­chory, on some Sun­days, the tradi­tion of two different but simul­taneous services developed. In the church building, a robed choir sang choral matins, while in the adjacent, modern hall an informal all-age eucharist filled the building. The congregations came together after­wards for coffee, cake, and chat.

Such diplomacy and friendship came naturally to Lisa, and no one doubted her love for the churches and the communities of Bonnie Deeside.

Her childhood had been spent in Tokyo, where her father was head of the Associated Press Bureau and her mother was the author of books on Japan and its neighbouring nations. Lisa’s second Christian name, Kei,
is Japanese, and its meaning of “Grace” was important to her through­out her life.

Later, the family moved to New York City, where her father became a vice-president of Associated Press. Lisa sang in the choir of an Epis­copal church and also studied musical theatre while at high school.Her university career included two years in North Carolina; an ex­­change visit to Goldsmiths College, London; the University of Cali­fornia; and finally a degree in Eng­lish literature from San Francisco State University.

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The movement between univer­si­ties reflected the turmoil in her life caused by her father’s cancer and subsequent death.

In San Francisco, she was married briefly to a fellow performer in the city’s comedy scene, and the turmoil became chaos as she descended into alcoholism. Alcoholics Anonymous brought her through it, however, one day at a time, as she learned the possibility of new beginnings. For the rest of her life, she was willing to help and support those struggling with addiction.

Lisa began a successful commer­cial career, but, when her mother died in 1994, she visited St James’s Episcopal Church in San Francisco to mourn and to cry for her. She stayed, and later became a student at the Church Divinity School of the Pacific at Berkeley, California.

She graduated with a Master’s degree in 2001, and was ordained deacon, serving as Associ­ate Rector of St Paul’s, Burlingame, California, for five years.

Her priestly ordination in 2002 was at Grace Cathedral, San Fran­cisco; and she appreciated the ap­­propriateness of its being in her “name” church. She was first diag­nosed with cancer during her years at Burlingame, and came to Scot­land on sabbatical after apparently successful treatment.

But cancer came again during her ministry in Aberdeenshire, where she became the first woman Chapter Canon of St Andrew’s Cathedral, Aberdeen (two women having earlier been appointed Honorary Canons).

In her busy life, Lisa was also Diocesan Placement Co-ordinator and, in the wider Scottish Episcopal Church, a member of the Min­istry Development Committee, the Lay Learning Group, and the Dia­conate Working Party. And, of course, her desire to help all in need remained undiminished, as I experi­enced personally.

After my own cancer was discovered, I was the recipient of phone calls and beautifully phrased letters from Lisa, and practical advice, too. She wrote: “As you recover — and you will be able to do little at first — then boxed sets of DVDs will be good.”

The grace that sustained Lisa’s ministry and her life did not desert her when the cancer returned for a third and final time. She continued working for as long as possible, and, on a Sunday morning of early sum­mer, while the congregation was at worship in St Ternan’s, she left the Rectory for the last time to travel by ambulance to hospital.

In her final days, she arranged her fi­nancial affairs so that all that she possessed could go to the Green Shoots Trust, which will help fund a family-ministry post in Deeside.

May Lisa Kei Eunson, who lived in grace and by grace, rest in peace and rise in glory.

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