‘In living and dying we belong to God’

At national 1001 New Worshiping Communities gathering, participants talk about death

by Paul Seebeck | Presbyterian News Service

In Ho Kim. (Photo provided)

ST. PETE BEACH, Fla. – At “Living, Dying, Rising,” the national gathering for 1001 New Worshiping Communities (1001 NWC) they talked about death. Ninety minutes were devoted to the topic of “dying” during a worship and plenary session.

“It’s important for us,” said worship leader Abby King-Kaiser, “especially because our culture has such a fear of death.”

“We do everything we can to avoid it,” said Rev. Daniel So, who along with Rev. Jeya So, led the plenary talk and conversation.

Jeya and Daniel co-pastor Anchor City, a NWC in San Diego. She is often told that “many worshiping communities die within their first five years.”

“I always say thanks a lot for telling me that,” she said to appreciative laughter.

Conversations about death were shared together at “Living, Dying, Rising”—those gathered paired up to speak about moments when they entered into the darkness of death.

The Rev. In Ho Kim shared his story with the wider audience. He remembers coming to the U.S. from Korea as a young boy, feeling completely alone, which is a kind of death in and of itself.

It was 30 years later, a decade ago, when he finally returned home to Korea with his wife Theresa and their one and a-half year-old son, who is 12 now.

It was a grand celebration. Kim comes from several generations of first-born sons. His grandfather, his father, himself and his son, were all first-borns. One day after they arrived food and blankets were packed into a van and off they went for a drive.

“Great,” Kim thought, “we’re going on a picnic.” They drove North of Seoul on a hot day. When they got to the destination, he began to walk carrying the picnic goods. Eventually, after going through some woods, they walked up a large hill.

The marker at the family grave site carry the Ho name—given to In Ho Kim, his brother, and most of his male cousins by first born males in the family. (Photo provided)

Then Kim saw it: the family grave, the home of their ancestors. They laid the blanket and food down in front of the grave, had a Bible study together, said a few words in prayer, and came back down. As they were heading down the hill, Kim’s 90-year-old grandfather looked at Kim and his family.

“If you want to come here, it’s okay,” he said.

“He meant after you die,” said Kim. “If you want to be buried here you can.”

Kim’s first thought was that he didn’t want to think about his mom and dad’s death, let alone his own, or his wife’s. But then he remembered seeing the images on the black stones to the left of the family grave. He knew enough Chinese to recognize one part of his name “Ho.” The one given to him, his brother, and all their male cousins. In Korea, Kim explained the tradition is for the oldest males to name the children.

“I realized what my grandfather was really saying,” said Kim. “You belong to this family.”

At the end of worship and plenary, Kim talked about how he felt when he recognized the deeper meaning of his grandfather’s words.

“I think it’s a comfort to know where we’re going, to be part of a larger family,” he said, “I will always be a part of them, no matter where I am, I will always be welcomed.”

There is a slight pause at the recognition. Kim’s grandfather, who passed away in 2011, was modeling what we are told in our confession of 1967, A Brief Statement of Faith, that “in life and death we belong to God.”

In his own way, In Ho Kim, is keeping the Korean tradition of the oldest male naming his children, alive. His son who is 12 now is named Soo Jin, his daughter Isabella is Soo Yun. Soo means, as in Psalm 23, he says, “quiet, calm water.”

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