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Pastor gifts members with Matthew 25 verse

By Donna Frischknecht Jackson | Presbyterians Today


Church: Korean Maryland Presbyterian Church | Location: Lanham, Maryland
Matthew 25 Focus: Congregational vitality | Local Situation: A pastor coming to a new congregation in a never-ending pandemic had to come up with a creative way to connect with congregants and get them invested in their new Matthew 25 status.


Korean Maryland Presbyterian Church members Courtesy of Korean Maryland Presbyterian Church

In Deuteronomy, the people are urged never to forget God’s laws. Remember them. Teach them to future generations. “Bind them as a sign on your hand, fix them as an emblem on your forehead, and write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates” (Deuteronomy 6:8–9).

While an ancient edict, there are still Jewish households today that seek to remember by mounting what is called a mezuzah onto their doorpost. Inside the mezuzah, which is a small container, is a piece of parchment with the words from Deuteronomy. As members of the household go about their daily tasks, they pass the mezuzah coming and going, and they remember.

While the congregation of Korean Maryland Presbyterian Church doesn’t have mezuzahs in their homes, they do have something for their walls: a framed picture with the Matthew 25:40 verse that reads, “Truly, I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.”

The frames were the idea of the Rev. Dr. Seung Yong Lee. Lee came to Korean Maryland Presbyterian from California in December 2019, just as COVID-19 was making its presence known. The virus might have thwarted the pastor from visiting his members, but it didn’t thwart his vision for the church to become an integral part of the community they were in. Korean Maryland Presbyterian is in the backyard of Washington, D.C., with the University of Maryland close by. It is an area ripe with ministry opportunities, Lee said.

In February 2021, having become one of the few Korean congregations to accept the PC(USA)’s invitation to become a Matthew 25 congregation, working to dismantle racism, eradicate poverty and revitalize congregations, Lee thought what better way to connect with his congregation than to visit (safely with masks) and talk more about what it means to do Matthew 25 work. According to Lee, “Most Korean American pastors visit the homes of members in early spring every year.” And so, after his official installation as Korean Maryland Presbyterian’s pastor in May, armed with framed verses, Lee began making the rounds. The pastor’s presence — and the frames — were both received warmly.

According to Lee, one of his deacons didn’t expect to get a frame. Both he and his wife were touched. Another deacon who lives in a nursing home enjoyed Lee’s visit and the gift of the frame. Lee hopes that the verse now hanging on his members’ walls in their homes helps them to “see Jesus” through those they encounter who are in need. “If a member encounters someone, he or she will recognize them as Jesus,” he said, adding that each frame he presented came with the heartfelt sentiment that it is “special for you.”

For Lee, the decision to have Korean Maryland Presbyterian become a Matthew 25 congregation was so that the mostly senior congregation — about 90% of members are seniors — can find a renewed sense of purpose.

“Matthew 25 challenges my church to be vital. We Korean Americans need to recognize the other ethnic groups near us. We need to reach out to the community,” said Lee.

Donna Frischknecht Jackson is editor of Presbyterians Today.

Lessons learned

  • Challenges bring opportunities. The pandemic led to thinking creatively in connecting with members.
  • What token can you grace your congregation with that reminds them of their call to be a Matthew 25 church?
  • It doesn’t matter how old a congregation is. Now is the time to start a conversation on how to see others in the community.

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