What “They” Said
“They” told me all sorts of things when I graduated from seminary.
“You’ll be great for some Korean church somewhere,” said a small Southern church pastor after I preached to his all-white congregation.
“Come back and help out our new associate pastor as his assistant,” said an elder from the Korean church where I was under-care for ordination.
“Any Korean church would be lucky to have you,” said a seminary staff person.
“Why don’t you marry a pastor and be the pastor’s wife,” said multiple men from a Korean church.
During seminary, when their snide comments didn’t take with me, “they” even talked to my father and told him that he should make me drop out, because what Korean church was ever going to call a woman as a pastor?
Certainly not them!
“They” had no reply when my father responded that he didn’t see a problem with my being a leader and pastor since I was better educated than any of their sons.
“They” had a lot of ideas about my call to ministry as a 1.5-generation Korean-American woman, and where I could or couldn’t live out that call.
“They” were busy placing me elsewhere, always signaling to me that I didn’t belong, that I couldn’t possibly lead or preach or administer the Sacraments seriously or relate to someone who didn’t look like me as their pastor.
I know that I’m not alone in telling this story. Countless others, because of how they are embodied, have been told by “them” that they couldn’t possibly become pastoral leaders.
Even after ordination, many find it hard to live out their calls, because they don’t fit the ideas that churches have about what their pastors should look and sound like.
Who these candidates for ordination and ministers are doesn’t conform to the implicit bias that many have about who is a good pastoral leader.
In the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), women, people of color, and those over 52 have found it more difficult to find calls.
With our current polity, we can add LGBTQIA+ ministers to that list.
It can become even more difficult when any of those identities intersect.
It turns out that God’s call for me took me to places “they” hadn’t imagined.
All three congregations I have served were non-Korean congregations. I have also served as a chaplain in a hospital.
Currently, I am living out my call in the denominational offices of the PC(USA).
I have been helped along the way by advocates and champions who saw that what I brought was an asset and not a deficiency, congregations and ministry settings that heard God call them out of safe familiarity into a new relationship and colleagues who were undertaking similar journeys.
When “they” told me all sorts of things, I asked “why,” wondered about the assumptions in those statements, and challenged their ideas about culture and unity and diversity.
Were it not for the community of colleagues and advocates and champions along the way, I might have grown tired and cynical, unable to heal from the wounds.
But these colleagues have shared in the ups and downs of this path, and there are many downs.
These friends and champions have helped to ground me in my deep sense of God’s call when the voices of the many “theys” have told me things.
This community has bolstered my strength and courage to continue showing up.
And I hope that one day, “they” will become “we.”
Jihyun will co-facilitate the upcoming Colloquy for Women of Color, September 14-16 and January 25-27, 2021 as she continues feeding her hope of “they” one day becoming “we”. To learn more about this colloquy and to register, click HERE.
Jihyun is an ordained minister of the PC(USA), and currently serves as Manager of Call Process Support and Assistant Stated Clerk in the Office of the General Assembly of the PC(USA). Prior to this new call, she served congregations as interim pastor, associate pastor, and parish associate, and served the patients, families, and staff in the ICU’s of a Level I Trauma hospital as a chaplain.
Jihyun came to ministry as a very early 3rd career student, and has been using her prior life skills in biology and finance, as well as her context and self as a 1.5-generation Korean American woman, for ministry through technology and website consulting, organizational coaching and consulting, and conflict mediation and training.
She is passionate about rethinking the mission and ministry of churches and pastoral leaders, about challenging, encouraging, and equipping people to think and live theologically within the church, and about teaching the stories of our faith to all ages, because she believes that the life and work of Christ gives the church its identity and the continuing presence of God through the Spirit gives shape to the church’s call as it participates in God’s mission of redemption and reconciliation. She feels called to minister in situations of crisis: the crisis of a changing context, trauma, and/or transition, among others. She believes this is where the greatest opportunities lie to see God re-create, redeem, and sustain Christ’s body in ways we may never have imagined before.
The Colloquy for Clergy Series is part of the CLL’s Pastoral Excellence Program. This application-based program is designed for clergy who are seeking to participate in a professional formative conversation or to reflect on their vocational experience and assess their ability to meet the leadership demands/needs of their organization. Attention will be given to addressing common experiences and issues of clergy cohorts: facing either a normative or unanticipated ministry challenge, career transition, standing at a vocational crossroads of some sort, engaging in reflective self-assessment, and finding support among peers.