Presbyterian Women moderator serves cultural, culinary twist on Scripture

Ruling Elder JyungIn “Jenny” Lee makes Korean dish Japchae a metaphor for church diversity, unity

by Rich Copley | Presbyterian News Service

Ruling Elder JyungIn “Jenny” Lee preaches Sunday at Church of the Covenant in New York City ahead of the 63rd Commission on the Status of Women at the United Nations nearby. (Photo by Rich Copley)

NEW YORK — JyungIn “Jenny” Lee was a bit incredulous.

She had come to an office event with Japchae, a popular Korean stir-fry dish of glass noodles, vegetables and mushrooms, sometimes including meat. Because of the arduous process of cooking Japchae, Lee explained that it was often the last dish people signed up for at potlucks.

But she had made it and was faced with a colleague who said he made Japchae in 15 minutes, far under the couple hours it took her and most people she knew to make the dish.

“I asked him, ‘Tell me how you make it?’” Lee recalled. “He said, ‘Chop up the ingredients and put them all together in a large wok. Put in some oil, ingredients, stir fry and eat. Simple.’

“Shaking my head vigorously, I said, ‘That ain’t Japchae. That’s stir fry.’”

For Ruling Elder JyungIn “Jenny” Lee, the traditional Korean dish Japchae is a metaphor for what unites the church and makes it diverse. (Photo by Rich Copley)

She explained how Japchae is made in Korea, with each ingredient individually cooked to its optimal taste and texture before being introduced to the larger dish. That’s why it takes more time and attention to get in right and make the dish work as a whole.

Lee was preaching Sunday morning at Church of the Covenant, a New York City Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) congregation just a block northwest of the United Nations, where the 63rd Commission on the Status of Women is about the get underway. Lee will be a delegate this year as the new moderator of Presbyterian Women (PW), which just became an accredited non-governmental organization at the UN.

Members of Presbyterian Women have been coming to the Commission for years under the auspices of the Presbyterian Ministry at the United Nations, a longtime accredited NGO which now hosts the unified delegation. The new accreditation will increase the Presbyterian voice at the annual UN event, billed as second only to the UN General Assembly in terms of size for the global institution.

On Sunday morning, preaching from 1 Corinthians 12:12-27, in which the Apostle Paul talks about the importance of each part of the body to make the whole, Lee was putting a distinct cultural spin on the Scripture about gifts and using them together for a greater good.

The scripture reads, in part:

Indeed, the body does not consist of one member but of many. 15 If the foot would say, “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body. 16 And if the ear would say, “Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body. 17 If the whole body were an eye, where would the hearing be? If the whole body were hearing, where would the sense of smell be? 18 But as it is, God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as he chose.

“What would Japchae be without spinach?” Lee asked. “Spinach, you are important. Don’t be downcast because you are not carrot. Shitake mushrooms — any Japchae without Shitake mushrooms would just be a mundane mix of carrots, onions, and spinach.”

As the members of the Presbyterian delegation, many of whom were in attendance Sunday morning, prepared to go to the Commission and advocate for women around the world, Lee was delivering an exhortation on the importance of the group and each member of the group.

“Church is like Japchae, where unique people come together blended with the spirit and offered for the world to enjoy,” said Lee, the first Korean moderator of Presbyterian Women. “Otherwise, the church would be French fries, where everyone is uniform in color, shape, and flavor — no offense to French fries.”

Lee was preaching to a fairly distinguished mix of guests at Church of the Covenant, as the congregation included the Rev. Dr. Rhashell D. Hunter, Director of Racial Equity & Women’s Intercultural Ministries for the PC(USA), and the Rev. Robert Foltz Morrison, Executive Presbyter for the Presbytery of New York City.

The Rev. Dr. Cornell Edmonds is the interim pastor at Church of the Covenant, which is near the United Nations in New York City. (Photo by Rich Copley)

Interim Pastor Rev. Dr. Cornell Edmonds said the church, which regularly sees permanent or visiting congregants working with the UN, usually has special guests in the pulpit during the Commission on the Status of Women.

“We try to yield this special time to the witness and the energy of these women,” Edmonds said during a post-service luncheon featuring — what else? — Japchae.

Concluding her sermon, Lee turned from Paul to another great leader of faith to bring her point home.

She quoted the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. saying, “I cannot be what I ought to be, until you are what you ought to be. And you cannot be what you ought to be until I am what I ought to be.”


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