Thursday, May 28, 2015

The Rev. Joey Lee


Welcome to the blog series celebrating the 2015 Asian Pacific American Heritage Month, inspired by the "Our New Day Begun" series celebrating Black History Month by the Rev. Tawnya Denise Anderson. This month, you will read profiles of Asian Pacific American Presbyterian leaders, spanning many generations and ethnicities. Check back throughout May for more profiles!



A look at other posts:

Presbyterians Celebrating Asian Pacific American Heritage Month
The Rev. Charlene Han Powell
The Rev. Phil Tom
The Rev. Bruce Reyes-Chow
The Rev. Yena Hwang
The Rev Joann Haejong Lee
The Rev. Shawn Kang
The Rev. Neal Presa
The Rev. Jim Huang

Joey Lee is the Executive Presbyter of the Presbytery of San Jose, and lives in San Jose, California.



Are you a “cradle Presbyterian,” or did you come to the tradition later in life?

I am a “cradle Presbyterian,” and God willing, will complete that phrase “…to grave Presbyterian.” I was baptized as an infant at Montview Boulevard Presbyterian Church, Denver CO, and our family soon moved to San Francisco where we joined the Presbyterian Church in Chinatown and the youth program at Donaldina Cameron House.

What do you most appreciate about this tradition?

Theologically, that we are saved by grace alone, and that “God alone is Lord of the conscience.” Ecclesiologically, that we are a representative democracy, seeking to discern the movement of the Holy Spirit, in community.


What about it do you think needs to be changed or addressed?

It has been said that as an organization, we were much influenced by corporate America during the 50s and 60s. (For example, my title “executive” presbyter.) But organizations, both for profit and non-profit, have been changing in terms of leadership style, governance, and strategy. Transparency, collaboration, mixed economies, delegation of decision are areas I would want addressed.

How do you think your perspective as an Asian Pacific American can enrich the denomination?

As an Asian Pacific American in the PCUSA, I see myself as an “outsider/insider." While Presbyterians tend to be at the center of American society, my perspective comes from being a refugee and immigrant. Growing up in a bilingual, bi-cultural family meant translating, explaining, interpreting and “code-switching.” The changing socio-political-economic-demographic-religious landscape of America suggests that all of us would do well to engage in these skills.


What led you to pursue ordination as a Teaching Elder?

I was mentored and encouraged by many that came before me, and upon whose shoulders I stand. In particular I think of Bert Tom, Wesley Woo, Virstan Choy, but first and foremost my father, elder C.K. Lee.

Describe your current call. What is your role? What is the racial/ethnic composition of the place you serve?

I have been the Executive Presbyter for the Presbytery of San Jose since 2008. I once heard a colleague describe this role as “the bishop’s chauffeur.” I resonate with that idea. In our Reformed tradition, the Presbytery is “the bishop” and therefore I help it get to where it wants to go.


Our presbytery is approximately 25% racial ethnic, although that is an increasingly tricky tabulation as we encounter more and more bi-racial and multi-racial persons.

How do you think our denomination can best benefit/be enriched by the perspectives of Asian Pacific American Presbyterians?

Family and community – APAs have long valued family and community. Presbyterians speak of being a connectional church, but are we relational? Families and communities are people in relationship, defined and bound by that relationship. And while I do not always agree with members of my family, I am bound to them as family, and acknowledge that nothing can break that relationship.


Balance – In Chinese philosophy, yin and yang describes how seemingly opposite or contrary forces are in fact complementary, interconnected, and interrelated to one another. Therefore rather than being “either/or,” the forces are “both/and.” Given the fragmentary nature of our society in general and the Presbyterian church in particular, we would benefit and be enriched by a more balanced approached to our life together, and a greater sense of our interconnectedness.

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