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.
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.