The following is a reflection I wrote for an Epp family reunion this past summer. I was asked by my dad to reflect on family and genetic memory.
I’ve lived in Seattle for 8 years and before that most of my life apart from extended family and apart even from immediate family: time spent in Jordan with MCC, here in Rosthern at RJC for high school, in Winnipeg as an adult, and finally the move to the US 11 years ago. Jesus told his disciples in Matthew that he came “to set a man against his father and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law.” He left his immediate family and the work of his father to be an itinerant preacher and prophet and stir up all kinds of trouble. While I certainly haven’t been set against members of my family – and I don’t necessarily think that Jesus was either – the call to go to seminary and to get married while there and then to ministry has meant being far from family.
Many of the members of the congregation where I serve as pastor and in fact many if not most of the people who live in Seattle are far from family. We have all migrated from somewhere else – mostly from other parts of the States, but some like me from Canada or from other parts of the world. And we build families out of the communities where we find ourselves. It is a city of people who are looking to new starts and adventure. Now, I might be one of the only Epps in Seattle (I Googled it and there may be one or two others) but my church family has become my primary network of care and support.
I think it may be true for my generation of this family more than any before that we are spread far and wide and see each other less and less often. And it is often for really good reasons – I ran into Nathan a few weeks ago when we were both in Phoenix for a church convention. He, like me has married and serves a church in the US. Others have left for work or to serve or to marry or for education. David will be off in only a little while with MCC SALT.
But the thing is, it has in some ways, been my Epp family that led me to where I have been and what I am doing with my life. When they took us off to Jordan and even in the stories of and travel to the Labrador coast, mom and dad were creating the foundation for service and travel. The songs and stories at home, the visits to the homes of Epps (and Duecks and Reimers) at holidays and vacations shaped me into who I am. The knowledge that I come from family in which there were many called to serve as pastors makes me feel deeply rooted in and proud of my work. If genes have a memory, then they are telling their story in my choice of vocation as pastor and in my willingness to venture into a foreign land – in so far as the US is foreign.
Jesus may not have been so positive about the role of family – although clearly his family raised him as a knowledgeable and faithful servant of God – but Paul, a single dude, speaks clearly about the important of honoring the generation before, and about the influence in the life of faith of parents and grandparents on the young. He writes to his colleague Timothy in his greeting in 2 Timothy, “I am aware of your sincere faith, a faith that lived first in your grandmother Lois, and your mother Eunice, and now, I am sure, lives in you.”
It could as well be written, “I am aware of your sincere faith, a faith that lived first in your grandparents Paul and Lillian and then in your parents Larry and Denise, and now lives in you.”
The challenge that I feel is that now I am raising yet another generation Epp. In fact it was really important for me that Naomi share our name. I was near Naomi’s age at the first Eppisode, in '81. I am curious to know in another 30 years what she might remember about her family and its role in her formation. I pray that God grant me – and Naomi’s dad Joe - the grace and faith and wisdom to be parents like those that Paul commends. I am very grateful for the family that has formed me.