Chicago, IL – Nestled between the historic walls of the First Korean UMC of Chicago and the modern facilities of the Crowne Plaza Chicago Northbrook, the power of unity and a shared vision echoed.
Approximately 300 Korean American United Methodist clergy and laity gathered from coast to coast for four days at the “2023 Special Session of the Korean Association of the United Methodist Church (KAUMC).” The theme: 여기, 다시, 부르심 – translated as “Reclaim, Revive, Renew” – aptly encapsulated the event’s essence.
Monday’s evening sun set with Bishop Hee-Soo Jung’s soul-stirring sermon, “Reclaim: Celebrating Our Strengths.” He eloquently presented a vision for the denomination’s future—a beautiful mosaic of diverse theological practices interwoven with a core belief in the cross and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
In a sanctuary awash in hues of blue, with water motifs and traditional Korean accents, members remembered the sanctity of baptism, taking a collective breath as they honored their holy commitment.
By Tuesday morning, Council of Bishops President Thomas Bickerton, who leads the New York Conference, voiced concerns that resonate deeply within the UMC community, titling his address “The Ultimate Pacesetter.” As so many leaders comment that they are waiting to see what happens at the General Conference, he likened that tendency to “casting our fate in a political event,” which, in his words, has often proven “more disorganized and chaotic.” His call was simple: “Act now in love, not later in reaction.”
An intriguing session followed, led by the Rev. Paul Chang, Executive Director of the Korean Ministry Plan (KMP). Contrary to popular narratives from sources like the Global Methodist Church or the Good News caucus, he revealed the Korean UMC’s true, vibrant statistics.
Nearly 94 percent of the 870 Korean clergy across the connection and about 85 percent of Korean congregations have chosen to remain within the UMC fold. What’s more, Korean clergy are predominantly serving in cross-racial and cross-cultural appointments, twice as many compared to Korean church appointments.
In short, the great majority of Korean Americans are remaining United Methodist. They are diverse in theological and cultural experiences, and their influence and leadership extend far beyond the Korean church context.
Tuesday night was a poignant, deeply moving journey, with the sanctuary transformed by fiery motifs and a breathtaking image of a dove. The emotional high point? A fence adorned with prayer ribbons.
Evoking the heart-wrenching prayer ribbons at the DMZ Panmunjeom*–a stark reminder of the divide between North and South Korea–this fence captured the congregation’s anguish. The painful separation experienced by Korean families 70 years ago was juxtaposed with the divide seen in the Methodist community, leading to somber reflection and fervent prayers for healing and peace.
On Wednesday night, the Rev. Kim Young-Bong delved deep into the subject of suffering and God’s renewing power. The worship service culminated in a traditional Korean-inspired Holy Communion service to further solidify the unity of Korean American leaders remaining in The United Methodist Church.
While the event saw active participation from pastors nationwide, a notable 17-member delegation from EPA&GNJ left a mark. “The message was clear. It was a time for healing, reconnection, and reorganization,” shared the Rev. Hun Ju Lee, Eastern PA’s North District Superintendent. “The 2023 Special session of KAUMC… was an affirmation that no matter the challenges faced, with God’s grace and a collective spirit, the church will continue to thrive and serve its mission.”
This four-day journey, encapsulated by Bishop Jung’s call for “theological curiosity and wonder,” was not just another conference. It was a communion of souls, a testament to the resilience and spirit of the Korean American UMC. Embracing joy, healing, and hope, participants left with rejuvenated spirits, ready to reclaim, revive, and renew their shared mission in Christ.
*The DMZ Panmunjeoma is village just north of the de facto border between North and South Korea, where the 1953 Korean Armistice Agreement that ended the Korean War was signed. The building where the armistice was signed still stands.
You can find more information on the Korean Ministry Plan here: https://umcmission.org/korean-ministry-plan/
Livestream of the KAUMC Special Session worship services can be found here: https://www.youtube.com/@koreanministryplan5414