Wednesday, May 6, 2015

The Rev. Phil Tom

Welcome to the blog series celebrating the 2015 Asian Pacific American Hertiage 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. Bruce Reyes-Chow
The Rev. Yena Hwang
The Rev. Joann Haejong Lee
The Rev. Shawn Kang
The Rev. Neal Presa
The Rev. Jim Huang

The Rev. Phil Tom is the Director of the Center for Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships at the U.S. Department of Labor in Washington, D.C.

Phil Tom, with his daughter Lena, 
at the Dept. of Labor 2014 AAPI Heritage celebration,
where the Chinese railroad workers were the first Asian Pacific American workers
inducted into the DOL's Hall of Honor.

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

My family’s spiritual background is Buddhist. In developing my own faith journey, I became a Christian at age 20 while I was in college, but I embrace my Buddhist tradition with my Christian faith.

What do you most appreciate about this tradition?  

I appreciate its concept of shared leadership – ruling elders sharing authority with teaching elders. I also value its order because it provides a constructive framework for how we act and live together within the PC(USA).

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

I think some of the rules around leadership and governance need to be addressed and become more flexible since more and more congregations are becoming smaller in membership and having less than full-time or no “professional” pastoral leadership. I think this same issue applies to emerging congregations.

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

As an Asian Pacific American, I grew up with a multi-lingual, multi-cultural and multi-national worldview.  I learned how to be adaptive and flexible as I moved from “one world” to “another world.” Like other Asian Pacific Americans, I contributed my learning and insights from these experiences in seeing the world differently to enrich the life and ministry of the PC(USA). 

What led you to pursue ordination as a Teaching Elder?

It was by accident and yet also by encouragement that I ended up being ordained as a Teaching Elder! During my senior year at McCormick Seminary, I still had no intention of becoming a Teaching Elder. But it was through the encouragement of folks like Carl Dudley and others who kept pushing me on to this path. A few months before graduation, the pastor of Dayton Ave. Presbyterian Church in St. Paul, Minnesota called to invite me to join the multi-racial pastoral staff team to serve a multi-racial congregation that was composed of African-Americans, Anglos and members of a growing Hmong immigrant community in St. Paul. It was not a call I expected or sought but one that I finally accepted. I was ordained as a Teaching Elder. This is one of my many examples of God’s sense of humor throughout my faith journey.

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

I currently serve in President Obama’s Administration as the Director of the Center for Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships in the U.S. Department of Labor. My role is to assist the Secretary of Labor and DOL agencies in reaching out and building relationships/partnerships with faith-based and community-based organizations that will enhance DOL’s mission to protect workers and to provide economic opportunities for all American workers. I work with a very racially and ethnically diverse staff team.  When I began serving at DOL, I was very surprised and pleased that the majority of Secretary of Labor Hilda Solis’ senior leadership team was people of color and that there were five Asian Americans heading DOL agencies.  

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

As the U.S. becomes more multi-faith, multi-lingual, globally inclusive, and majority people of color, the perspectives of Asian Pacific American Presbyterians can make a significant contribution in helping the PCUSA to understand, to navigate, to negotiate, and to act in a new way as it moves boldly into this new world, locally and globally.  

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