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Some Thoughts and Feelings

Eun Joo Kim

This theological reflection was prepared for the Pastor Theologian consultation held in October 20-22, 2010, Colorado Springs, sponsored by the Office of Theology and Worship.  This particular consultation invited 13 Korean American pastors representing generations and gender.  The theological engagement focused on the event at the 219th General Assembly held in Minneapolis that led to the defeat of the motion to create another Korean language presbytery.

Eun Joo came to the United States in 1974 with her younger brother and sister. Her parents were waiting for them in Buffalo, New York. In 1975, the whole family moved down to New York City, Queens, where they have lived since then. After graduating Cornell University in 1990 with a double major in American History and Music Theory, she went straight to Princeton Theological Seminary. During her M.Div. studies in seminary, she served as youth pastor in Han Sung Presbyterian Church in Woodside, New York. After seminary, she went to Korea for about a year, working at the Presbyterian Theological Seminary and College in Seoul as an English Instructor and as a simultaneous translator for Sunday services at Young Nak Presbyterian Church. Upon returning to the states in 1994, she served as youth pastor at the Korean Central Presbyterian Church in Queens (KCPCQ) while working on her Th.M. back at Princeton. After KCPCQ, she had the opportunity to work as a Community Partnership Specialist for the Department of Commerce’s Census 2000 as well as Youth Director of the YWCA of the City of New York in Flushing. She then went to serve as English Ministry Pastor at the Yale Presbyterian Church in New York for close to eight years. Eun Joo got ordained on April 1, 2007 through the New York City Presbytery. Currently, she is working as a hospital chaplain at New York Hospital Queens and is working on her doctorate on Church Leadership in Fordham University.  She enjoys learning and sharing about Korea through popular culture, history, music, and media.


In CPE (Clinical Pastoral Education) the method of learning is based on the model of “action, reflection, action.” I am excited that after the action, we are now taking this opportunity for reflection, so that we can act again, hopefully the wiser for the time we took out to reflect. We are also taught in CPE to listen for and honor feelings; that feelings are just as important, if not more so, than thinking.

These are some of the feelings I had leading up to the General Assembly, during the gathering, and in the aftermath.

I was truly proud in the weeks approaching the General Assembly. A friend and classmate was in the running as moderator; a fellow colleague and member of the Korean American Presbyterian Clergy Women (KAPCW) was in the running for vice-moderator; at least four Korean American clergywomen were attending as commissioners; one of those commissioners will be installed as moderator of her presbytery come January of next year. I felt that we were finally and slowly getting 1.5/2nd generation Korean American men and women into positions of strategy and influence.

During the gathering in Minnesota, I received an email from a KAPCW member, who is also staff at Presbytery headquarters. She wrote to tell me, not in too much detail, what had happened. I was proud of my sisters for their courage and eloquence in speaking their minds and voicing their concerns. At the same time, I could also feel for the first generation folks who must have put a lot of time and effort to bring this issue to the forefront. It just so happened that those how were speaking against the proposal were 1.5/2nd generation Korean American women clergy. This was not some premeditated conspiracy to overturn and overthrow our first generation Korean elders.

What happened afterwards made me feel sad, disappointed, and angry. That one of the women who spoke against the creation of yet another language-specific presbytery was approached and threatened is unacceptable. I am glad that she reported the incident, but she shared that she spent the rest of the assembly looking over her shoulder to see if those who intimidated her were near. How crazy is it that most of the scars we receive are from within the church? It is not an excuse, but I can hear a friend of mine always telling me, “gyo hweh gah byung doh joo go yahk doh joon da” (the church gives the disease as well as the cure). And as Korean American clergywomen, there still might be further repercussions from this occurrence, both individually and collectively.

In preparing for this consultation and in watching the video of the episode, I came away feeling hopeful. Whereas the first generation folks desiring their language specific presbytery might have heard rejection, disrespect, and disruption, I was hearing calls for unity, accountability, and connection.

A Chinese American elder in my presbytery later on asked me why there was opposition to this proposal. After all, he thought, these women could fully work in and fit with mainstream churches. They definitely have the language and cultural capabilities. He is right. I know many bright, gifted, powerful Korean American women leaders who are serving in the Korean American as well as many mainstream churches. But wanting to make the Korean American churches involved in the full body and context of the geographic presbyteries is saying that we as Korean American 1.5/2nd generation women leaders want to work in the Korean American churches, to walk alongside our first generation sunbaes. This was not an act of rejection, but an act of commitment to be colleagues with them.

We, as women pastors, could have walked away and not care whether another language specific presbytery is created or not. Many women have already left the Korean American churches. But if Korean American Church can see beyond the immediate need and greed, to where the church can and should be 10, 20, 30 years down the line, it will need the leadership and service of the next generation of Korean American ministers, both women and men. In order to ensure that the “playing field” is large and resourceful to retain and engage the next generations, it behooves the Korean American churches to retain and sustain their participation with the larger body. The next generation, then, can act as liaisons and leaders to and for the church within and without. 

We are taught in CPE to be non-anxious in conflict. What happened in Minnesota has the potential to divide and breed distrust. But if we keep from anxiety and take this as an opportunity for dialogue and reflection, as we are doing in Colorado, then something meaningful and fruitful can will come out for the growth and well-being of our Korean American churches and the church universal. Another thing that we are taught in CPE is to trust the process

Part of the process is our theological reflections. I offer up to you all a passage that spoke to me as an English Ministry pastor. I shared this with my congregation as a challenge to their maturity and in urging their growth. It is a reminder to both the first and second generations that we, 1.5/2nd generation Korean Americans, are “no longer infants.” As we slowly “come of age,” part of the process is to differentiate and find our voices. At the same time, we are reminded to strive for unity, not uniformity, and to know that we share one hope, one God, one faith.  Perhaps this passage can be fodder for further discussions when we gather next week.

Ephesians 4:1-16)-NIV

Unity in the Body of Christ

 1As a prisoner for the Lord, then, I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received. 2Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. 3Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. 4There is one body and one Spirit—just as you were called to one hope when you were called— 5one Lord, one faith, one baptism; 6one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.

 7But to each one of us grace has been given as Christ apportioned it. 8This is why it says:
   "When he ascended on high,
      he led captives in his train
      and gave gifts to men." 9(What does "he ascended" mean except that he also descended to the lower, earthly regions? 10He who descended is the very one who ascended higher than all the heavens, in order to fill the whole universe.) 11It was he who gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers, 12to prepare God's people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up 13until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.

 14Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of men in their deceitful scheming. 15Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will in all things grow up into him who is the Head, that is, Christ. 16From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work.

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