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John Epps

June 30, 1939 – June 24, 2020

John Epps was a loving husband, a brother, a theologian, a consultant, and a teacher in the fields of international strategic business and group process facilitation. Born June 30, 1939 in Charleston, South Carolina, John graduated as valedictorian from Newberry High School and received a B.A. in English at the Citadel, Charleston, South Carolina, where as a “distinguished military student,” he graduated third in his class in 1961. Interested in exploring additional academic disciplines, he became a graduate student at Perkins School of Theology, Southern Methodist University, Dallas, Texas, where he earned a B.D. and a Ph.D. in Systematic Theology, graduating in 1964.   John met his wife of 55 years, Ann, at Southern Methodist University where she was an undergraduate student.


They moved to Chicago to join the Institute of Cultural Affairs (ICA) in 1972 and were subsequently invited to move to Southeast Asia, where John took up the post of ICA Regional Research and Training Director, based in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. Following a life-long concern for social justice, John and Ann enjoyed working in support of community development projects across Southeast Asia as well as teaching methods of group planning and non-confrontational dialogue to business, government, and non-profit organizations across the region. Their active interest in enabling communication bridges across diverse cultural, socio-economic, age, and background differences led them to become founders of the International Association of Facilitators in 1994. During his more than 20 years living in Asia, John also taught online graduate school courses in international business strategy for the University of Maryland.


John’s love of writing and a desire to look below the surface to discover the wonder and meaning of ordinary life led him to write and publish two volumes of reflections about people and places he encountered around the world.  His interest and scholarship in theology led him to write and publish The Theology of Surprise. Sharing a love of classical music, John and Ann enjoyed playing the clarinet, along with frequent attendance at symphony concerts in Kuala Lumpur. After John’s retirement in 2016, they moved to Denver, Colorado, where they had served as co-directors of the Rocky Mountain Region of the Institute of Cultural Affairs in the mid-1980’s.  There they have enjoyed many hikes in the Colorado mountains and engaged in various discussion groups of international friends and colleagues. He is preceded in death by his parents, Margaret Elizabeth Wallace, and John Law Epps and survived by his wife, Ann, and his brother, Charlie (Gail), and niece, Katie.

Dear Communion of Saints, John’s earthly existence was completed on Wednesday morning, June 24, 2020.  His last words were “thank you,” the same words he wrote to you on June 9 in his brief comments, “Thanks for the memories.” For five days we were privileged to be in the lovely Denver Hospice which enveloped us with grace and compassion. I am grateful for your many comments of appreciation for John in response to his “Last Collegium.”  Grace and Peace,

~~  Ann Epps


Dear Ann (and Denver colleagues), Our hearts were not ready for this, even though John had warned us. He looked so good on camera at the ICA Social Research Center gathering, and his several responses sounded like he was feeling revitalized with all the love poured his way. We send our deep care to you. We are so thankful the amazing colleagues who are nearby to support you in this time of his parting. In addition to all the imparted wisdom from John in Research Centrum, we are so thankful for our shared journeys in Asia, our crossed paths in Denver, and John’s work as general editor with George Holcomb, George Walters, Betty Pesek, and me, John C., on Bending History. A favorite thanatopsis-type poem reminds us of John’s preparedness for this journey and his setting the way for all of us:

        At this time of parting, wish me good luck, my friends.

       The sky is flushed with the dawn and my path lives beautiful….


       I start on my journey with empty hands and expectant heart….


       Though there are dangers on the way I have no fear in my mind.

       The evening star will come out when my voyage is done and the 

       plaintive notes of the twilight melodies be struck up from the King’s gateway. 

                   ~Gitanjali by Rabindranath Tagore

The two of us are with you all in spirit as you celebrate this awesome journey with dear John! GRACE & PEACE be unto you,

          ~~  Lynda and John Cock



Ann, I want to join with my colleagues and the hosts of people who ever encountered John. He was the bearer or the wisdom of profound living, he was the presence of one who served and his love was boundless. May he rest, in a Journey completed in embracing the Mystery. May God bless him and comfort you. I miss him. Thank you John. Peace,
~~  Jack Gilles

Dear Ann, John opened our minds and hearts. He allowed us into his fully examined life. I will carry him with me always. I send you light,love and peace,

~~  Salvatore Caruso

Dear Ann, I hear the piano playing already. I remember John with Lela and Lloyd sharing insight, music and humor.  I remember his gift for holding space for the group and the wisdom to ask or articulate in the moment. Someone said Charles Hahn was always a Pastor, Marge Philbrook always lived the affirmation that each person she met was  “the greatest” John was always a theologian, articulating with eloquence how the mystery is showing up in every moment, the joy and the challenge. He is missed. With love and respect,
~~. Larry Philbrook




John Epps Contributions to the EI, OE and ICA

Joined January 1972

1972-79 – Chicago Ecumenical Institute, Nexus

  • Taught numerous RS-1 and Parish Leadership Courses

  • Prior of Research Centrum that produced quarterly Ecclesiola manuals

  • Member of first full-time Panchayat

  • Co-authored the OE Polity Document

  • Assisted in organizing the Oklahoma Town Meeting 100 campaign

  • Member of team for three “Kitchen Sink” Summer Programs in Chicago

  • Member LENS strategic planning development team and three global treks to pilot the course

1979-82 – Kuala Lumpur Regional Nexus

  • Prior Operations Centrum

  • Consulted, trained, and travelled to Projects throughout SEPAC

1982-85 – Denver/Rocky Mountain Region ICA Co-director

  • Co-led regional organizing team for Colorado Exposition of Rural Development

  • Formed IERD regional steering committee including Lieutenant Governor

  • Assisted in identifying numerous project candidates for IERD India conference

  • Co-taught numerous accredited ICA Imaginal Education Courses and other ICA courses

  • Presentation of ICA community development projects to Denver Rotary

1985-2016 – Kuala Lumpur Region

  • Marketed and Co-facilitated multiple strategic planning projects with financial, insurance, technology, direct selling, international non-profits (Save the Children Norway, UK Volunteers, etc.), and petroleum industries

  • Trained public courses in Malaysia in ToP Facilitation Methods, Strategic Planning, Imaginal Education, Meeting Design, Facilitation from the Inside Out

  • Founding member of the International Association of Facilitators (IAF), internationally, and co-organizer of IAF events in Malaysia

  • Member organizing committee of twelve IAF Asia Facilitator Conferences

  • Co-developed and led “Methods Modules” for business and community leaders prior to offering full ToP courses

  • Organizing editor of two volumes of Joseph Wesley Matthews talks

  • Co-developed and led Customer Service Workshops with multiple companies

  • Participant and co-presenter at numerous ToP Network Conferences in the USA

  • Co-led multiple ToP facilitator training sessions for government officials in Singapore both through the Singapore Civil Service College and as requested by various government agencies such as the Subordinate Court Judges, the Internal Revenue Service,  community police, and the Ministry of Home Affairs

2016-2020 – ToP Network, USA

  • Attended ToP annual gatherings

  • Member of ToP Curriculum team for several years

  • Assisted in editing new TFM Participant Manual




There are not adequate words for us to express gratitude for John’s life and legacy.  All the same, we are grateful for his life and for his faithfulness, and certainly for his gracious generosity as he shared his best thinking with us as individuals and the Order until his last days. Peace be with you, Ann.

          ~~  Doris Hahn

Ann, We receive this message with a sense of loss but with a deep appreciation for what John’s life has meant to us personally and to the “Communion of Saints” as well. Though he never knew it, his impact on our faith was a crucial at a time when it was important to distinguish between theology and faith. He is, even now, a thoughtful, calming presence for us in these moments where our theology and faith tend to get mixed up and we tend to forget that it is all about life and what we do with the little we have. May your sorrow and loss find comfort in the fullness of life that he so clearly revealed. Bill and Suzanne.Parker

We are grateful for John’s humility and appreciation of excellence in his work and the work of others. John and Ann as a couple acted out teamhood in all that they took on. For those of us who worked with them, they were interchangeably known as “the Epps.” What a complement for a long marriage dedicated to Social Justice. We send love and light to Ann as you live out of your strength in this tender time of transition.

          ~~  George and Elise Packard

John was an inspiration in my life even though he probably didnt know it. He had a towering intellect and twinkle in his eye. Hard not to love!

           ~~  John Miller
As one of hundreds who had a relationship with John, I liked that he always went straight to the core of the matter. “Well I don’t know anything about that. But what I DO know is …” and then would come the nuclear insight. From the spiritual dimensions of ICA and ToP to the practical considerations of having a great phone call, he was a giant I looked up up.
            ~~ Bill Staples

John was one of the clearest, most humane theologians with whom I have ever had the honor to work. For fifty years Ive counted on him to grasp the profound truth of a situation, and its most ridiculous, hilarious humor! Of course well carry on, always remembering that quiet grin…,

          ~~  Maureen Jenkins

Dear Ann Epps and friends, A practice of the ancient Greeks when somebody died, was to share one of the good things we remember from the person. I never met John personally, but I remember him most kindly from the clear, deep and caring way of his article “Facilitation from the Inside Out”. It will always be a guide for me. Thank you John, and be well. Consciently,

~~  Gerd Luders, Chile

In thanks for the life of John Epps. In appreciation for life changing conversations. To hear him again through his writings….doorways, always doorways. An offering from another writer…


by Mary Oliver

It doesn’t have to be

the blue iris, it could be

weeds in a vacant lot, or a few

small stones; just

pay attention, then patch

a few words together and don’t try

to make them elaborate, this isn’t

a contest but the doorway

into thanks, and a silence in which

another voice may speak.

John’s work as General Editor for the Bending History books – a gift to all.

          ~~   Beret Griffith