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Gathering of the National Council of Korean Presbyterian Churches has the feel of a family reunion

PC(USA) leaders are grateful for their longtime partners across the Pacific

by Shani McIlwain | Presbyterian News Service

Members of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) national staff were on hand in Seoul, South Korea, earlier this month ahead of the the 53rd gathering of the National Council of Korean Presbyterian Churches. (Photo by Kim Cheol-sik)

SEOUL, South Korea — The 53rd gathering of the National Council of Korean Presbyterian Churches that convened earlier this month felt more like a family reunion.

This year’s theme, “A Great Challenge for Holy Vision,” set the tone for the work ahead for the attendees gathered over the next few days. This historic visit of staff representatives from Ministry Engagement and Support in the Administrative Services Group and Racial Equity & Women’s Intercultural Ministries in the Presbyterian Mission Agency was perhaps befitting as unification between the PMA and the Office of the General Assembly begins to take shape.

RE&WIM Director the Rev. Shanea D. Leonard delivered opening remarks, reminding attendees of REWIM’s open door/open email policy. Leonard closed by saying, “I am very supportive of where you stand, and I am prayerful with you as we come towards our 226th General Assembly. Let us walk together as a big tent as we wrestle through where God has us this year. Amen. God bless you.”

Worshipers during the 53rd annual gathering of the National Council of Korean Presbyterian Churches sing “How Great Thou Art.” (Photo by Kim Cheol-sik)

In between business meetings and workshops, the delegation visited with mission co-workers housed in World Mission. It was humbling to hear how prophetic work was being done with both the Presbyterian Church of Korea and the Presbyterian Church in the Republic of Korea.

The Presbyterian Church of Korea was established in 1907, with the church’s first general assembly held five years later. The PCK began to ordain women as elders in 1956 and as ministers in 1974.

In 2003, with a major celebration of a milestone year coming, the PROK launched a jubilee proclamation, which declared its mission task to be:

  • To work for justice and peace by restoring Earth’s destroyed nature to the order of God’s Creation, so that the Earth may become a true community of life.
  • To transform a culture of materialism and violence into a culture of life.
  • To work for reconciliation and peaceful reunification of our divided people.
  • To make every effort to unite the churches separated by division into “One Church.”
  • To renew the church, that it may become the whole and perfect body of Christ.
  • To build equality between men and women and harmony between generations.
  • To share and serve in a spirit of love for our neighbors.

Presbyterian mission work in Korea began in 1884 and was primarily medical and educational. Early mission work centered in Seoul and Pyongyang. Eventually nine stations were established. Work was done in cooperation with several other denominations, including Methodists and Presbyterians from Southern, Canadian, and Australian churches.

Mission coworkers the Revs. Hyeyoung Lee and Kurt Esslinger serve in South Korea, along with the Rev. Unzu Lee.  The Revs. Myung (Martin) Han and Jieun Kim Han are the liaisons for East Asia.  Martin and Jieun Kim Han nurture and support the programs, relationships, and activities of partner churches and organizations, and implement the regional strategies of PC(USA).

Based in Seoul, Martin Han’s ministry focuses on the partner churches and entities of China and South Korea, as well as the partner churches and entities of those two countries. Jieun Kim Han relates to partner churches and entities in Japan and Taiwan. They provide support and pastoral care to PC(USA) mission personnel in the areas they cover. In their roles with World Mission, they serve as a resource for connection and information between partners and the PC(USA). They also develop strategies for East Asia in collaboration with Hery Ramambasoa, the Area Coordinator for Asia and the Pacific, and for global partners.

Attendees offer applause during the gathering of the National Council of Korean Presbyterian Churches. (Photo by Kim Cheol-sik)

During this trip, several PCUSA employees held workshops to help attendees learn about various resources.  The Rev. Wilson Kennedy, Associate Director for Special Offerings and Appeals, expressed gratitude for being able to offer thanks in person for their generosity through churchwide Special Offerings and the Presbyterian Giving Catalog.

This was also an opportunity to meet with several congregations and form new relationships.  Along with several other colleagues, it was the personal connections and transformative personal stories that were the takeaways. One attendee stated, “For you all to come here and worship with us, it is so special.”

As Kennedy expressed, “The PC(USA) has partners all over the world! We learn from them, grow closer together in Christ with them, and work together to enliven God’s reign of justice, love and peace.”

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