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. Neal Presa
The Rev. Jim Huang
The Rev. Shawn Kang is the pastor at Pathways Church of Houston in Houston, TX.
Are you a “cradle Presbyterian,” or did you come to the tradition later in life?
I grew up in the Presbyterian Church. When I was little, my parents were part of a small Korean Presbyterian church in Detroit, Michigan.
What do you most appreciate about this tradition?
I most appreciate the “connectedness” of the Presbyterian tradition. Whether it was our national youth conferences, regional gatherings for young adults, leadership training or Presbytery events, I always felt like I was part of something larger. I appreciate the PCUSA’s emphasis on missions and justice, locally and globally.
What about it do you think needs to be changed or addressed?
Currently, the bureaucratic aspects of our denominational polity. The structures as they currently exist do not allow for the many ways that different cultures “move” as a community. The polity of the church needs to be more flexible and open.
The national and regional offices (presbytery) as a whole need to find better ways to connect to local congregations. This connection needs to allow for the diversity of voices in the local congregation and in the local communities.
How do you think your perspective as an Asian Pacific American can enrich the denomination?
I think that as a child of Korean American immigrants born here in the United States, I have a different context from which I have experienced and how I see culture, life and faith. As an Asian Pacific American, I am a minority. Not fully perceived as “American,” not fully perceived as “Korean.” I am privileged in some circles and ignored in others.
I think that this unique perspective can help to advocate for the voices of the immigrant, the unheard, the minority etc from the “fringe.” Hopefully, this can open up communication within the denomination as a whole and within the local congregations, allowing for different styles and types of leaders, structures of organizations and perspectives on theology.
What led you to pursue ordination as a Teaching Elder?
Growing up in a Korean Presbyterian church, I was encouraged to explore leadership within the local congregation as well as exposed to many different levels of National leadership. Seeing and meeting Asian American leadership locally and nationally helped immensely. Having a Korean American Youth and Young adult pastor in my formative years help identify and encourage my calling was crucial. Also, simply serving as an intern in churches and in national planning teams opened my eyes to what ministry could be as a calling.
Describe your current call. What is your role? What is the racial/ethnic composition of the place you serve?
I am currently the senior pastor of a multi-ethnic congregation in Houston, Texas. Pathways started as an NCD with a group of 8-10 Asian Americans through the Presbytery of New Covenant. Shortly after chartering as a congregation with around 100 members and a bunch of young children and newborns, we were offered a church facility from another congregation in the Presbytery that was closing its doors.
After moving into the facility, almost forty of the members connected to Pathways and eventually joined as members. Since that time, we have been receiving new members through food pantry ministry and just from the local community itself.
Our current congregation, though still predominantly Asian and Caucasian, has a growing group of other people of other ethnicities. Recently we received into membership a large group of high school and college age Hispanic and Asian young adults who had left another congregation. We also have a small but growing Korean speaking group that are the parents of some of our members who meet together at the church. It is a strange, wonderful, eclectic mix.
How do you think our denomination can best benefit/be enriched by the perspectives of Asian Pacific American Presbyterians?
Again, I think it has to do with connection. We need to find ways to connect Asian Pacific American Presbyterians with the larger denomination in leadership, in curriculum writing, Seminaries, with other congregations. In my experiences serving at several Korean American immigrant congregations, I found the congregations to be disconnected from the other denominational congregations, the presbytery leadership, national denominational discourse and other denominational resources.
Asian Pacific American Presbyterians have a different experience with Presbyterian polity and theology. This difference of perspective can help open the channels of connection between the church as a whole and those diverse communities outside of the church who desperately seek a connection.