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United Korean Presbyterian Church amends its bylaws and enhances its service to the community

The Bethesda, Maryland congregation partners with National Capital Presbytery and a national staffer to better align with the PC(USA)’s Constitution

by Mike Ferguson | Presbyterian News Service

LOUISVILLE — Over nearly a year, the United Korean Presbyterian Church in Bethesda, Maryland, undertook what the Rev. Josh Park calls “a significant project” to amend its bylaws to align more closely with the Constitution of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.).

“The amendment process was extensive and transformative, requiring not just changes to the document but also a shift in the church’s operational mindset,” said Park, an Assistant Stated Clerk and the Manager for Korean Speaking Council Support in the Office of the General Assembly.

Working in collaboration with National Capital Presbytery, the church undertook key steps, including re-educating session members on PC(USA) polity, analyzing and explaining necessary bylaw changes, and developing a Manual of Administrative Operation to better equip the session for effective church leadership.

The Rev. Taekhan Yoon is shown preaching at United Korean Presbyterian Church in Bethesda, Maryland. (Photo courtesy of the Rev. Taekhan Yoon)

The church’s pastor, the Rev. Taekhan Yoon, began his call at the church about 18 months ago. “The session made the decision we needed to follow PC(USA) law,” Yoon said with occasional translation assistance from Park. “It was time for renewal with the right structure, and the process was dependent on National Capital Presbytery guidance.”

United Korean Presbyterian Church is 55 years old. “They realized after 55 years of carrying out God’s mission there was something not working,” Yoon said. Yoon realized the first step was to re-educate congregational leaders, to “share the joy of what makes our polity work.” Ordained in the PC(USA) by Cherokee Presbytery, Yoon, once his present call had begun, “instead of saying the previous way was wrong … provided an alternative that was more wholistic — not only in conformity with the Constitution, but it’s healthier,” Park said, translating for Yoon. “They were ready. He came as a gentle teacher and as a revealer.”

Among Yoon’s first moves was to reach out to the presbytery. National Capital Presbytery’s Stated Clerk, the Rev. David Baer, joined Park to preach at the church’s celebration on May 12. Following worship, the congregation voted unanimously to adopt the bylaw changes.

The Rev. David Baer

“Rev. Yoon was a gracious host, and before the service we spoke about his having undergone his candidacy in the PC(USA) and the deep grounding in our polity that he carried with him from his formation as a minister,” Baer said. “I appreciate the sense of connection with the larger church that Rev. Yoon expressed, and that informed his desire to lead the congregation through a revision of its bylaws.”

Baer called Park “vital in this effort, providing denominational resources to the pastor and the session in Korean while keeping me updated on their work and allowing me an opportunity to provide feedback. I am grateful for his support, and for his conscientiousness in making sure the congregation stayed connected to the presbytery.”

Watch a recording of the May 12 service here. Baer preached one sermon, which begins at the 54:35 mark, with Park providing Korean translation. Park preached during another service that day.

“When I visited, United Korean looked to be a thriving congregation,” Baer said. “The parking lot was full, and when I stayed for the meal that followed the service and congregational meeting, Rev. Yoon had to excuse himself so that he could lead the new member class, which looked to be substantial when I later glimpsed it through a window on my way out.”

“I hope the new bylaws they adopted help them to continue in their calling as grace-filled, enthusiastic witnesses to the love of Jesus Christ in their community,” Baer said.

What changed?

According to Yoon, week by week, “the current leaders are living our what it means to be a good Christian and a great Presbyterian.” While it’s been only a few weeks since last month’s unanimous vote, the congregation is taking the important step of nominating and electing a new church officer for the first time since Yoon began his ministry there.

“This is a huge celebration. God is moving us from glory to glory, from grace to grace,” Yoon said. “You can clearly tell there is a huge turn of direction, excitement and joy. Everyone is excited to elect a church officer.”

In its 55th year in existence, “one thing they are doing is looking forward and looking back,” Yoon said of the congregation. “A lot of ruling elders went before them, and they want to honor them and celebrate their dedication and their service.” Toward that end, the church looks forward to holding a revival service on its anniversary in November.

The Rev. Josh Park

“Korean immigrant churches come from different Presbyterian backgrounds,” Park noted. “Maybe they are cradle Presbyterians, but not PC(USA) cradle Presbyterians. They know there has to be a session, ruling elders and deacons, but that’s about it. How they run the session and do other things can greatly vary.”

Without Yoon’s “vision and his commitment, this would not have happened,” Park said. “It takes boldness and audacity on the part of the preacher.”

Yoon cited one example of a needed change: the previous bylaws required ruling elders to be the leader of a cell group. Cell groups form the fellowship basis at the church, but some cell group leaders were burned out by the responsibilities of leadership.

“You won’t find [the cell group leader requirement] anywhere in PC(USA) polity,” Yoon noted.

During the celebration, Yoon said he witnessed the kind of unity he’d been working toward and praying for.

“This wasn’t the presbytery or the session,” he said of what he saw that day. “Everyone was of one accord. It was a 100% vote, and that’s why everyone was touched.”

The congregation has created a brief documentary film and plans to celebrate the May 12 vote by screening it during an upcoming church picnic.

The move “has created massive momentum,” Yoon said, but “church leaders know that just because you change the words of a document, the invisible system won’t be changed. But they have strong faith that God is moving, and the current leaders are more eager to work.”

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