Samuel Son says the multi-ethnic church is a ‘natural’ expression of the gospel
by Gregg Brekke | Presbyterian News Service
LOUISVILLE – The Rev. Samuel Son has been hired as the new Manager for Diversity and Reconciliation in the Presbyterian Mission Agency (PMA) of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) He begins his work in Louisville Sept. 5 and will report to the Executive Director’s office of the PMA.
Son comes to the PC(USA) after serving the New Life Triangle new worshiping community in Raleigh, North Carolina, for three years. The diverse, multi-ethnic, congregation began as the English language ministry of Duraleigh (Korean) Presbyterian Church under the leadership of the Rev. Moongil Cho. Son served with Cho at Duraleigh for five years prior to the launch of New Life Triangle. Cho is now Associate for Korean Intercultural Congregational Support at the PC(USA).
“Multi-ethnicity is just natural,” Son says of the church’s vision to welcome and attract others. “It’s a place where every culture can feel comfortable. And God was doing it so we decided to embrace it. Whoever comes should have the ability to use their gifts at the highest level of leadership. But staying in the Korean church meant the session would be led in the Korean language, and that limits who can be part of that leadership.”
Son says the transition “took a while,” but the congregation ultimately became a multi-ethnic ministry that stands out as a model for the rest of the church. Using the examples of the New Testament books of Romans and Ephesians, he believes the apostle Paul encountered a similar situation: how to share the gospel equally with Jews and gentiles. It’s given Son the opportunity to read these texts with a new perspective.
“The ministry of diversity is not easy, because you’ll have differences,” he admits, noting current struggles and biblical examples of conflicts. “The way they were able to overcome these difficulties was the gospel — that Jesus is lord of all.”
PMA Interim Executive Director Tony De La Rosa says Son brings a “deep level of theological sophistication and reflection” to the office. “He has a very strong scriptural understanding about diversity and reconciliation that meshes beautifully with the confessional imperative of Belhar.”
“Diversity is not a nicety, it’s not a desire on our part to look good,” says De La Rosa. “It’s a scriptural, theological and confessional mandate. And to the extent that we perpetuate systems that keep [diversity] from happening, that is sinful activity. And that’s where Belhar comes in, because it names it as sin. Samuel is able to speak to that with passion and integrity.”
Son says he’ll most miss the people he served and worshiped with in Raleigh, but looks forward to the task of helping PC(USA) congregations become more diverse, inviting those in their communities who may not have found a welcome elsewhere.
“I feel this is my life’s calling,” he says of the ministry of expanding diversity. “I know it’s a very difficult task, but all the ministries the PC(USA) has — justice, peacemaking, reconciliation — will help the denomination move away from a mono-cultural expression.”
Rather than seeing an individual group that needs ministering to, Son believes the practices of multi-ethnic ministry can be implemented in every congregation and that every congregation has the ability to become diverse.
“We have to pay attention to the people who live near, live by and work with [us],” he says. “That could be the community we need to reach out to. We don’t have to look far. We just need to open our eyes to the people who pass us by, but we haven’t paid attention to.”
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