Best of Vancouver 2011 bright lights: Steven Epperson
For close to a decade, Rev. Steven Epperson has served as minister of the Unitarian Church of Vancouver.
The 56-year-old husband and father handles many traditional duties working out of the church at 49th Avenue and Oak. He delivers sermons, provides religious education, and oversees weddings.
But being minister also involves plenty of advocacy work. He speaks out on issues like highway expansion, harm-reduction drug policy, and multiculturalism. And he supports church committees focused on social justice, refugee support, and the environment.
“My job is to help us think theologically and ethically on social, political, [and] cultural issues,” Epperson told the Georgia Straight during a recent interview at his office. “What I want to create…[is] a space where people are welcome to come in here with their values and with their passion and find a way to express those values publicly.”
While he holds a key position with the century-old Unitarian Church of Vancouver, Epperson resisted the label of leader. Instead, he said the church has a “shared ministry”, explaining that he works alongside the congregation of more than 400 people.
“It’s an honour and a privilege for me to minister with this congregation because they’re fabulous people,” he said.
Epperson hasn’t always been involved with Vancouver’s Unitarian church. In fact, he was born in the United States as a fourth-generation Mormon.
After earning a PhD in religious studies, he worked as a professor at Brigham Young University, a private Mormon institution in Utah. But he eventually became dissatisfied with the Mormon church and left.
“I was more of a person that looked at the theological assertions and beliefs in Mormonism and translated them metaphorically, analogically, and I kept bumping up against people that said, ‘No. You can’t think like that. It’s like this. It’s really literal,’” he said.
Epperson’s interest in the Unitarian movement was piqued when his teenage sons started attending a youth group.
“I knew about Unitarianism historically and theologically but I hadn’t seen it in action,” he said. “So I snuck into the First Unitarian Church in Salt Lake City and went up into the balcony and sat down and looked over at the guy sitting next to me and he was this guy sitting there in a bustier and high heels.
“The sermon was great, the music was great, and after the service, I turned to this guy and I said, ‘Are you welcomed here? Do you feel really welcomed here?’ He says, ‘Are you kidding? This is my church. I feel so welcome here and these people are great.’ And in some ways, that was kind of it for me....Finally I felt like ‘Okay, here’s a religious community I want to be a part of.’”