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Korean-American clergywomen celebrate 20 years of experiences

 


Korean-American clergywomen celebrate 20 years of experiences

Aug. 13, 2004       

By Linda Worthington*     

MCLEAN, Va. (UMNS)—President George W. Bush sent greetings to participants celebrating the 20th anniversary of the National Association of Korean-American United Methodist Clergywomen.
 
Nearly 60 clergywomen assembled Aug. 3 at the Korean United Methodist Church of Greater Washington in McLean, Va., to mark the progress made since organizing in Los Angeles in 1985, at the initiation of the United Methodist Board of Higher Education and Ministry.

“I applaud your commitment to your faith,” read the Rev. Amy Yoon, a member of the Baltimore-Washington Conference, while the President’s words were projected on a screen in Korean.

The Rev. Kyunglim Shin Lee, vice president of United Methodist-related Wesley Theological Seminary, Washington, and president of the association, led the three-day event and spoke of the group’s annual meetings. “These gatherings were very important to us because it was the only channel that we felt free to talk about our pain and struggles as women clergy in the Korean community,” she said.

The organizing meeting included “two clergywomen and a few seminarians,” Shin Lee said. “Now we have 100 ordained women.”

The clergywomen wore rainbow-colored stoles, a gift from the Association of Korean Clergywomen in Korea. They have accepted an invitation to attend that group’s 50th reunion of the ordination of the first clergywoman in Korea next year, Shin Lee said.

Three Korean-American United Methodist bishops, one who is retiring and two newly elected, attended the event.
 
“I am proud of the leadership of you who were able to self-start this movement to bring advocacy to Korean women in the United Methodist Church and also awareness and education to the rest of the church, including Korean males,” said Bishop Hae-Jong Kim, who retires from the Western Pennsylvania Area on Sept. 1. “Our church is better for it.”

Newly elected Bishop Jeremiah J. Park, who will preside over the New York Area, said that transformation in the life of the church happens when the culture of the church changes. “We must have a partnership culture (with the women),” he added.
 
Bishop Hee Soo Jung, newly elected and assigned to the Northern Illinois Area, apologized to his wife, the Rev. Im Jung, pastor of Oneida United Methodist Church, a Native American congregation in DePere, Wis. She waited 10 years to begin seminary while he got his doctorate, he explained, and he said he failed to support her when she was appointed 12 years ago.

Im Jung, from her seat in the audience, shouted to him, “I forgive you.” The clergywomen in chorus echoed her, “We forgive you.”

“He really helped me to be what I am now,” Im Jung said later. “When I was in seminary, he raised our 4-month-old and 3-year-old.” She will stay in her church the next few months while their son, a senior in high school, graduates and Bishop Jung moves to Chicago to begin his service.

The Rev. Won Hwa Lee Ryu, a retired pastor from the California-Pacific Conference, was at the first meeting in 1985. She said that she learned through the sharing time at that early event that the “women’s path is not an easy one. We (Korean-American clergywomen) all had the same experiences of pain, difficulties and disappointments.”
 
The Rev. Sung Hee Park, who pastors Trinity United Methodist Church in South Amboy, N.J., is typical of many of the younger clergywomen. She preaches in English in her church, which is largely white.
 
Park was one of two Korean-American clergy delegates to the 2004 General Conference, a big step forward, she said. “But there are no Korean women district superintendents or bishops – yet,” she added.

The Rev. Lena Kim, director for church development for the Russian United Methodist Church, was one of two pastors who came from Russia for the gathering. She addressed the assembly in English because she doesn’t speak fluent Korean, unlike most Korean-Americans who retain, or learn, their mother tongue. Though ethnically Korean, the Russian native explained, “My grandparents after World War II were afraid, so they only spoke Russian. Now I’m sorry I don’t know Korean well.”
 
She thanked her Korean clergy sisters for all the help the Korean United Methodist Church gives to support the Russian churches. A uniqueness of the Russian church, she said, is that 80 percent of the ordained pastors are women.

With few exceptions, the group spoke Korean, though most of them serve in English-speaking churches. One reason for this, said the Rev. Rachel Ye Kim, who serves a multiethnic church in Hartsdale, N.Y., is that Korean is a homogenous language, unlike many countries where there are many dialects and even languages.

That makes it much easier to teach it to the children, even those born in the United States. “It’s important to us to retain our Korean culture,” Kim said, pointing to her two toddlers playing in the hall. “I’m teaching them to know Korean. It’s very important for who they are.”

Also attending the gathering was the Rev. Millie Kim, from the North Georgia Conference, who will leave for Mongolia in September, where she will be a missionary for the United Methodist Board of Global Ministries.
 
Koreans and Mongolians share a lot of common culture, Kim said, and she welcomes the opportunity to work in the mission field with other missionaries who share her ancestry. “I see this as God’s providence,” she explained.
 
Kim pointed out that as a result of the 100th anniversary celebration of the Korean church in the United States last April in Hawaii, the group made a $100,000 donation to the board’s Mongolian mission initiative.

Many Korean men also were present at the celebration. Twenty-two members of the men’s choir from the National Korean United Methodist Church in Rockville, Md., which Shin Lee attends, asked to sing in support of the women. The host church’s mixed choir also performed, along with liturgical dancers from the Virginia Conference.


*Linda Worthington a member of the communications staff of the Baltimore-Washington Conference.

News media contact: Linda Green, Nashville, Tenn., (615) 742-5470 or newsdesk@umcom.org.

 

 

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