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When culture is a roadblock


Korean clergywomen find ways to serve

January 23, 2021

The Rev. Evelyn Chang is the pastor of Hope Presbyterian Church in the Bronx, N.Y. The Korean immigrant church opened its doors in 1997 and became a PC(USA)-affiliated church in the early 2000s. Courtesy of Presbyterian Mission Agency

It’s 2021, and women in the pulpit are not an unusual sight in many churches across the country. A 2018 study conducted by Eileen Campbell-Reed titled “State of Clergywomen in the U.S.: A Statistical Update” revealed some interesting facts about clergywomen in the U.S.; among them was that in most mainline denominations, the percentage of clergywomen has doubled or tripled since 1994. Still, while more women have the title “Rev.” in front of their names, obstacles while on the road to ordination, and even when serving in church, remain. Among those obstacles is the still pervasive problem of gender discrimination.

In 2016, the “Gender and Leadership in the PC(USA)” report, conducted in partnership with Racial Equity & Women’s Intercultural Ministries of the Presbyterian Mission Agency and the Study on the Status of Women Team, found that eight out of 10 female teaching elders have experienced discrimination, harassment, and/or prejudicial comments due to their gender, and four out of 10 felt that they have experienced gender bias in hiring, promotion or selection for an official position within the denomination. Among the members of the church at large, 59% of women and 52% of men agree with the statement that “gender inequality is still a problem in the PC(USA).”

When survey participants were asked what type of leadership role they held, more men than women said they held an official leadership role as opposed to an unofficial role.

So what role are ordained Korean females playing in serving and guiding churches?

The Rev. Evelyn Chang is the pastor of Hope Presbyterian Church in the Bronx, New York. The Korean immigrant church opened its doors in 1997 and became a PC(USA)-affiliated church in the early 2000s. The church has remained in the community, but today very few of the members of the congregation are Korean.

Her ministry mainly serves Hispanics after most Koreans who initially attended the church moved to the suburbs. “More and more Hispanic high school students began coming to the church in the mid-2000s,” said Chang. “We started feeding and evangelizing the students.”

Chang recalled her journey to ordination. “My professor at the Alliance Theological Seminary challenged me to go to China, where there were many female ministers,” she said. “Many of the women in China are pastors of house churches. After returning from China, I went to Ramah Naioth Retreat Center in upstate New York to discern my ordination.” At that time, Chang said she had neither known nor seen any female pastors around her.

She said, “One evening when I went to the cafeteria for dinner, there was no one except one Baptist minister who happened to be there for prayer. I didn’t say anything, but he talked about his thoughts against the ordination of women out of the blue. Every single Bible quotation he referred to was not a biblical understanding about the ordination of women.”

Two decades later, Chang still finds it humorous that God used a male pastor to convince her even more of her call to be ordained. She found her way to the Bronx church because no one wanted to serve in the “so-called ghetto city.”

“I ended up becoming a lead pastor in 2006, after serving as an assistant pastor for nine years,” said Chang. And while not serving a Korean church, Chang has found her work rewarding, seeing so many young people being baptized in the faith and prepared to begin their lives with the Word of God.

“We’ve helped many of them with the necessary steps to enter college, and some of the students became couples and have been married,” she said, adding that while it is hard for one church to have two different cultural backgrounds, “we do our best to be united.” Chang has high hopes for the church’s future as well. “Our church is small in numbers, but I still have hope for our church to baptize more people and make disciples in the years to come.”

Gail Strange, Director of Church and Mid Council Communications for the Presbyterian Mission Agency

Today’s Focus:  Korean Clergywomen

Let us join in prayer for: 

PC(USA) Agencies’ Staff

Becky Burton, Presbyterian Mission Agency
Kelly Cahill, Board of Pensions

Let us pray:

God of abundance, remind us that we never give from scarcity but out of the abundance you have first shared with us. Show us the ways your gifts multiply to meet the need in our midst — and still leave us with abundance left over! Amen.

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