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‘This is our story’

The National Caucus of Korean Presbyterian Churches holds its Jubilee Symposium

by Gail Strange | Presbyterian News Service

“This is Our Story” was the theme of the Jubilee Symposium of the National Caucus of Korean Presbyterian Churches. (Contributed photo)

LOUISVILLE — To celebrate the first 50 years of the National Caucus of Korean Presbyterian Churches (NCKPC), the organization held its Jubilee Symposium, “This Is Our Story,” last fall.

The hybrid event not only allowed for testifying to God’s faithfulness in the Korean American churches of the PC(USA) for the past 50 years, but also for envisioning the next 50 years of Korean American churches that serve and bless the third-through-fifth-generations of Koreans.

Keynote speakers for the Symposium included a fifth-generation Chinese American sociologist, third-generation Japanese American theologians, and first- and second-generation Korean American scholars. Through the keynote presentations and a panel discussion, presenters shared their stories and experiences for the future of Korean American churches.

Dr. Russell Jeung, co-founder of STOP AAPI (Asian American Pacific Islanders) HATE and an expert on Asian American hate crime, addressed the issue of the rise of anti-Asian racism in the United States.

Rev. Gun Ho Lee, pastor of the Greenville Korean Presbyterian Church in Winterville, North Carolina, and a member of the Jubilee Preparation Committee, said “The 2021 Jubilee Symposium of the NCKPC provided an opportunity to enlarge the NCKPC’s tent through intercultural learning led by various Asian leaders. The organization was strengthened by intergenerational cooperation between the first-generation and the second-generation leaders.”

Lee says the symposium challenged the NCKPC to think out of the box and do such things as the use of English, not Korean, as the main language for the event. “The invitation of non-Korean, particularly other Asian speakers and most of all, the co-planning of the symposium between the first-generation and second-generation leaders, meant a great deal to the NCKPC,” Lee said.

The Rev. SuYoung Kim, education pastor of The Korean Church of Boston and also a member of the preparation committee for NCKPC’s First Jubilee Symposium, said, “As a first-generation pastor of a Korean immigrant church, this was an eye-opening experience for me. I now realize the power of our stories — the stories of great Korean Americans who left their birthplace and relatives, like many in the Bible, and made America their home in the face of many challenges. These are the stories of Asian Americans who had been discriminated against and condemned then later joined to build the country together and tried to become a part of the blessing for the country, and the stories of Asian American kids who look just like my kids (they are girls!) having grown into bold and bright leaders finding their own voices, places, and meaning in America.”

When asked what he thought was accomplished at the Jubilee, the Rev. Samuel An, senior pastor of The New Hope Church of Michigan, in Redford, Michigan and a member of the group, replied “Over the course of more than a year, many leaders of the Korean-American caucus [NCKPC] were praying and looking at where we had come from to discern our path for the next 50 years. We looked at our history, and saw too much pragmatism and not enough prophetic self-critique within our churches. We repented of neglecting to work on generational divides, the marginalization of many women, the needs of those outside the church, and a lack of partnership with other churches. I believe the work of the committee did much to prepare the hearts of many leaders for the messages we heard during the symposium.”

“This Jubilee is a sign of hope for the future,” said Lee. “This means that the NCKPC is no longer a gathering of the first-generation pastors and elders, but it means that intercultural and intergenerational fertilization is possible.”

Many women played a key role in the planning and execution of Jubilee Symposium. Ruling Elder Hu Nam served as chairperson of the Jubilee Preparation Committee. However, there are not many Korean women pastoring Korean churches.

When asked why there were so few Korean women leading Korean churches, Lee responded, “I do not think there is any theological problem with Korean women leading Korean churches. There are many good women leaders in Korean churches. It is a matter of very slow cultural transition from the first generation to the next. I am looking forward to seeing what happened in the PC(USA) in terms of women leadership happening in Korean churches, hopefully in the near future.”

Lee acknowledged that while he was not aware of any specific action that the NCKPC will be taking immediately, there is a committee within the Caucus that deals with this issue.

In his response to the question about Korean women pastoring Korean churches, An replied, “I know many elders and pastors who have become much more open to supporting the ordination of women in the past few decades. I know many Korean women in ministry have faced hardships in the past, but I believe most churches are moving in the right direction in doing more to support the flourishing of women clergy in Korean American churches.”

When examining the biggest issues facing the PC(USA) Korean churches, the Rev. Don Lee, the associate pastor of Praise Korean Presbyterian Church in Somerset, New Jersey and a second- generation (English ministry) representative, said, “The biggest issue currently is the relationship between first- and second-generation ministries co-existing and thriving under one roof. There are many models of how KM’s (Korean Ministry) and EM’s (English Ministry) are ministering side by side, but continued conversations must still take place if EM’s can flourish alongside the KM. Another big issue is that as the PC(USA) moves more and more towards liberal theology, the Korean church (which has traditionally been more conservative) needs to see how they will embrace the denomination.”

The Rev. Don Lee says he believes the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) can help address these issues by providing more resources that are specific to the Korean American context. “One personal desire is the creation of a presbytery of second- and third-generation Korean American pastors/churches so that future generations can find their voice in the PC(USA).”

To watch videos of the symposium, click here.

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