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.

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

The Rev. Jim Huang

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

Jim Huang of New Brunswick, NJ serves as the Senior Pastor of the Taiwanese/American Fellowship Presbyterian Church. Here he is with his wife KuanFen Liu and daughter Terilyn Huang.


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

I am a cradle Presbyterian, but from a different country. I was born in Taiwan, baptized as an infant in a church that belonged to Presbyterian Church of Taiwan, and confirmed at the Taiwanese American Presbyterian Church of San Jose, California. I guess you can call me lifelong and dedicated Presbyterian.

What do you most appreciate about this tradition?

The reason I continue to believe in the Reformed Tradition is because this tradition always reminds me to be on the lookout for the changes in our world. This tradition reminds me that we cannot afford to be comfortable and stagnant, because the world is changing, and so shall our ways of reaching the people. 

I believe in the Presbyterian way of the Reformed Tradition because I believe in the role of the presbyter as an ordained office. It is a great responsibility to be an elder in a Presbyterian church; the ordination process and the subsequent ceremony are necessary parts of this discernment process.

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

I do not believe in change for change’s sake. What needs to be changed depends on the context of our ministry. What needs to be addressed is that each and every church needs to change from trying to be a prophet to becoming a healer, trying to be welcoming to becoming invitational, trying to do ministry to becoming ministers.

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

I am a 1.5 generation Taiwanese American. I was born in Taiwan, and subsequently immigrated here to United States with my family when I was eleven years old. That introduction alone can enrich our denomination because the label of “Asian Pacific American” encompasses so many vastly different cultures, subcultures, languages, political climates, and deeply rooted ways of life. Asian Pacific Americans come from a densely populated area with so many different kinds of people that our individuality in that world is important. We have found a way to carve out our individual identities.

I believe our world is becoming as dense and diverse as the Asia Pacific region, and people in this diverse world are always looking for identity, to find a place that they belong. Our denomination needs to become as diverse as our world is becoming, and I believe Asian Pacific Americans can enrich our denomination by providing a way for us to become diverse yet keep our individuality locally.

What led you to pursue ordination as a Teaching Elder?

This is a long story, so I will be brief. 

Call – An invitation from a trusted source and a sense of responsibility to my identity as a Taiwanese living in America. 

Affirmation – From my upbringing, to my role as an immigrant and how God shaped me as a Taiwanese American, and affirmation from my family led me to believe that the call indeed was from God.

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

I am currently serving as the Senior Pastor of Taiwanese/American Fellowship Presbyterian Church in New Brunswick, New Jersey. Our congregation is 95% Taiwanese, and 5% “Other.” Though our racial/ethnic composition does give an impression that we are not a diverse church, we are, in fact, very diverse.

I would say about 60% of our congregation are Taiwanese immigrants who have been here for about 30 years. They speak mostly Taiwanese, and worship in Taiwanese. 
20% of our congregation members are also Taiwanese immigrants, but they are recent immigrants. They are mostly in their 30s, and though most do (some do not) understand Taiwanese, they mostly converse in Mandarin Chinese. They are different culturally than the previous group.

20% of our congregation members are English-speaking. They are either: 1) children of the first group; 2) spouses of the first or second group who only speak English; or 3) local community people who enjoy our community. They speak and worship in English only.
We don’t seem diverse from the racial/ethnic point of view, but we are diverse from a cultural point of view. The three groups have three different cultural backgrounds, and are nurtured three different ways.

I was called to be the “glue;” to bring these three diverse groups of people together, have them worship together, and function as a family of God.

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


As you can see from my answer from above, I believe Asian Pacific American Presbyterian can enrich our denomination by demonstrating how to be unified with different cultural backgrounds, languages, theologies, or even worship styles. We live with diversity every single day, even on Sundays. Though we are mostly ethnically Taiwanese, we come together to celebrate that part we share. However, we celebrate it differently. We celebrate it by speaking different languages in our fellowships, we celebrate it by doing different things in our fellowships, and we celebrate it despite our differences in other areas. I believe this is something our denomination can learn from Asian Pacific American Presbyterians. We need to focus on what we share, not what sets us apart.

Thursday, May 21, 2015

The Rev. Dr. Neal Presa

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. Jim Huang

The Rev. Neal D. Presa, Ph.D. serves as Associate Pastor at Village Community Presbyterian Church, Rancho Santa Fe, CA and as Extraordinary Associate Professor of Practical Theology, North-West University, Potschefstroom, South Africa. He is the immediate Past Moderator of the 220th General Assembly (2012) of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.).




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

I was baptized in the Roman Catholic tradition, grew up in the United Church of Christ, introduced to Christ by two Baptist ministers, and became Presbyterian/Reformed in the mid '90s. Through pastoral and ecumenical work, and doctoral studies, my knowledge and appreciation of the various Reformed traditions, Eastern Orthodox families, Anglican and Methodist liturgies and polities, non-denominational and Pentecostal traditions were deepened.

What do you most appreciate about this tradition?

What I appreciate about the Presbyterian/Reformed traditions is at the core and circumference of who we are, what we believe, and how we do what we believe are premised on covenant - God's covenant with us, our covenant with God, and our covenant with one another. We don't live it out perfectly as demonstrated by the various divisions for the last 500 years in the Reformed faith. But those divisions do not negate God's covenant promises to us in Jesus Christ as sealed and assured by the power and presence of the Holy Spirit. Our sacramental life as expressed in baptism and the Eucharist is anchored on the covenant. Our confessions are premised on covenant. Even our polity, in its essence and in practice, are shaped and informed by covenant.  

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

For over 500 years, the predominant voices in the Presbyterian/Reformed traditions have been those of our sisters and brothers of European descent: continental Europe and then the trans-Atlantic Scottish/English Puritans and Congregationalists.  With that comes an ineluctable sense of privilege and power in theological, cultural, and political epistemology, and the expression and practice thereof.  On the eve of the quincentenary of the Protestant Reformation, we have an opportunity to truly reform the church in such a way where the "priesthood of all believers" is not a mere favorite mnemonic device, but a lived reality; that sovereignty of God is not a mere phrase placed in one's statement of faith but is truly lived out that God is in control, and that because God is in control, God cares not about human power, but about how God's power in Christ is used to uplift the hungry, the downtrodden, the poor, the sick, the orphan and widow - those without power.

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

As a Pacific Islander, Asian American (I can claim all those being born in Guam, both of my parents being Filipino), we do differentiate between eating, dining, and feasting. Eating is just the function of putting food in your mouth. Dining is eating but with niceties, rules, and protocol, but not real, deep relating to one another. In so many ways, the Book of Order and Robert's Rules of Order have become the placemats of our dining together.  Feasting is what we do in my wider family.  Neighbors bring food and enjoy the feast, whether you are a blood relative or not. In Guam, it's understood already that you are family because of the water. In the Christian faith, water is thicker than blood! My cultural and ethnic identity enriches the denomination because of feasting as both belief and act, and the feasting occurs within the context of community, and in the beauty of God's creation.  You can't get more comprehensive than that!

What led you to pursue ordination as a Teaching Elder?

I thought I was headed to law school as a political science and history double major at UC Davis. Almost everyone in the political science department at the senior luncheon was headed to law school or PhD studies in political science. Not me. It was a sermon I heard at Whitworth's (when it was Whitworth College) Institute for Ministry on the text, "The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few."  That was the Holy Spirit moment, when the Spirit impressed upon me the question, "Why do you want to go to law school?" It was a "Come to Jesus" moment because at the heart of the matter was about the law degree, the legal profession. It was about power. It was also about cultural expectation. As a Filipino son and grandson, the expectation is one must be a lawyer, doctor, or engineer.  Teaching elder/pastor in the Roman Catholic side of my father's family translated to "celibate priest."  It took an act of the Holy Spirit to steer me from law school to the ordained ministry, the work of the Holy Spirit to help my family see the gift of ministry as vocation, and the sustaining work of the Holy Spirit through and through. 

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

I have dual calls.  The Village Church is a 1100-member congregation in one of the most affluent zip codes in America. Our members and the community context are entrepreneurs, business leaders, physicians, attorneys, finance managers, and they love Jesus Christ deeply. Worship and mission are central to Village Church, and the ability to be a part of significant kingdom impact in north county San Diego and around the world is pretty awesome. My role as Associate Pastor for Family and Connecting Ministries is to provide strategic and pastoral leadership for our preschool (150 kids), children's, youth and young adults, older adults, family small groups ministries, and new member initiatives; that translates to supervising a staff team of 24, plus three interns and administering a budget of $1.1 million.  It's working alongside my other staff colleagues, lay leaders, and the numerous families.  On any given day, I interact with nearly 200 people, in a given week, about 400-500, sharing the love of God, nurturing faith.  The congregation is 97% Anglo as is the community of Rancho Santa Fe. 

In addition to my service at the Village Church, I'm on a three-year appointment with the North-West University in Potschefstroom, South Africa as a distance researcher and student advisor in the capacity as Extraordinary Associate Professor of Practical Theology ('extraordinary' is the term used by some African, Australian and European schools to differentiate from 'ordinary' or residential faculty; the equivalent in the American setting would be 'adjunct' but it sounds pretty cool!). My call with the university is primarily to publish works in the area of Reformed theology, and when needed, to provide academic guidance to masters and doctoral students in their thesis proposals and writing.

The dual appointments at the Village Church and at the North-West University are in line with my sense of call from the beginning to be concurrently engaged in the congregation, academy, and ecumenical contexts, as it was when I was in New Jersey. There's never a dull moment. And to be a part of formation and ministry in the daily rhythms of a local congregation with a broad reach in local and global contexts plus the opportunity to still write and actively publish and serve in councils of the church - I have the best of all worlds. For that, I'm deeply grateful.

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

Pacific Islander Asian American Presbyterians have a rich story and faith journeys that enrich the predominant Anglo culture that is and has been the PC(USA).  We have lived on the "edge" so to speak. I've been ecumenical all my life. Living in the tension of being Roman Catholic and UCC as a child, and then adding to that being Presbyterian/Reformed, and everything else -- there's no anxiety here when it comes to embodying multiple identities, living with ambiguity, embracing difference.  That's what we offer -- a humble but confident faith, ever learning and growing, and not anxious in the midst of it all.

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

The Rev. Shawn Kang

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.

Monday, May 18, 2015

The Rev. Joann Haejong 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. Shawn Kang
The Rev. Neal Presa
The Rev. Jim Huang

The Rev. Joann Haejong Lee serves as Associate Pastor for Community Formation at Calvary Presbyterian Church in San Francisco, CA.





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

Cradle Presbyterian! Both my maternal and paternal grandmothers were the first Christians in my family. They shared their faith with their children and spouse which then got passed down to me.  

What do you most appreciate about this tradition?

That we are a connectional church.  Without these national connections, I would never have known that women (Korean women at that!) could grow up to be ministers. 
I also believe being a connectional church, at its best, can teach us how to honor and appreciate diversity: how to be one without being the same; how to have unity without uniformity; acceptance without assimilation, & solidarity without sameness.

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

For far too long, we have been so focused on self-preservation that we are not boldly being the Body of Christ in the world. We should be on the front-lines of working for justice and peace. We should be breaking cycles of poverty, working to end racism, sexism, and homophobia, and being a catalyst for change in the world. 
We, however, focus so much on fundraising and “church growth” which are certainly important aspects of ministry, but oftentimes we do so at the cost of being the church in the world.  

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

My ministry is informed and shaped by my gender and racialized identity. My family tried to uphold the notion of the “model minority” and to achieve the supposed “American Dream,” but no matter how hard we worked, that dream was never within reach. And although we were Asian, our failed businesses and unpaid bills never quite qualified us to be considered a “model minority.” Perhaps this freed me up to be less-than-model: to be angry and frustrated with dehumanizing systems that perpetuate injustice; to resist labels and stereotypes that paint entire groups of people in one light; to listen and give voice to people who are silenced or whose English is less-than-perfect; to straddle two cultures while never feeling fully comfortable in either.  

I think my perspective can challenge our predominantly white, highly educated, relatively socio-economically affluent and powerful denomination to consider faith and life through a different lens, to come at the questions and answers we seek from a different angle. 
For instance, one of my key theological beliefs is that God created diversity and rejoices in it. I believe our differences are what strengthen the Body of Christ. I recognize that one of the reasons I believe this so fully is because I simply have to. I live and navigate this difference every day. I have no choice but to believe that diversity is a gift from, difficult though it may often be.   

One other example is that for me, as a young person growing up as a second-generation Korean American in Texas, church was my extended family. Church raised me. My parents were not always able to be present because they worked twelve hours a day, six days a week. But they relied on the church to be there for me; we were a true community. That sense of communal dependence and support is expected, and an important perspective that is often lost in American culture and society.  

What led you to pursue ordination as a Teaching Elder?

I suppose the word “call” comes to mind. Others heard the call for me and encouraged me to take steps towards ordination as a Teacher Elder, and for a long time the call was “external.” I began seminary not knowing what I wanted to do upon graduation.  
While in seminary, I began to develop my own voice and to individuate (studies show APA young adults tend to individuate later in life, so maybe I wasn’t all that behind the curve from my peers.) And that’s when I began to experience that sense of call for myself. 

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

I serve at Calvary Presbyterian Church in San Francisco which is about 1000 members and whose racial/ethnic composition probably mirrors that of the denomination. 
My full title is Associate Pastor for Community Formation, and my focus is on building community on and beyond Sunday mornings through education and fellowship. I supervise the children, youth, and family ministries and am directly involved with confirmation. Worship, mission & service, and pastoral care are also a part of what I do, and much of the ministry here is shared rather than silo-ed.   

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

As previously stated, I believe diversity is created by God and the best expression of the Body of Christ. I believe we are strengthened as a church when many voices, perspectives, and experiences are present and valued at the table. While every Asian Pacific American brings their own unique gifts and perspectives, as APA Presbyterians, we bring voices of immigration, of interfaith dialog from within our own families, of generational differences and of straddling cultures, of internment and forced migration, of language barriers, and of being perceived as perpetual foreigners. And while we are still a minority in the PCUSA, we bring faith communities that are thriving and oftentimes growing in membership, too. 
Too often, APA voices are included but not always heard. They are present but not always valued. When these voices share perspectives that are inconvenient or requires change, they are silenced or ignored, and excuses and justifications are made for upholding the system as it currently is. 


I think this denomination would best be enriched by the perspectives of APA Presbyterians by resisting tokenism and being open to mutual transformation through these relationships. 

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

The Rev. Yena K. Hwang

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

The Rev. Yena K. Hwang is the Associate Pastor for Christian Formation at Fairfax Presbyterian Church, and lives in Falls Church, VA.



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

I came into the Presbyterian tradition as a child.  My great-grandfather accepted Christianity through his encounter with early Methodist missionaries to Korea.  He helped build the first Methodist church in his village, Mu-Reung Methodist Church in our family’s hometown of Gangwon Providence in South Korea.  My father’s family maintained the church as deacons and provided leadership in the church.  

However, my father left the faith during his early young adult life.  When I came along, my parents were not connected to the church.  As a matter of fact, my earliest memories of “spiritual” or “religious” experiences were associated with Buddhism, because my parents were exploring Buddhist faith at the time.  

When I was in third grade, my parents decided to go back to the Christian faith. They chose to go back to my father’s roots and chose a large Methodist church located in downtown Seoul. Being restaurateurs at the time, they did not attend Sunday worship regularly, so instead of having me attend church worship services sporadically with them, they allowed me to attend a local Presbyterian church with my friends. Every Sunday, I walked to Hoo-Am Presbyterian Church, in my neighborhood, and attended the children’s worship service and Sunday school program without my parents. 

We immigrated to the States when I was eleven years old. When we arrived in Baltimore, MD, and transitioned into our new life in America, we were cared for by other Korean immigrants who were members of a Korean Presbyterian church in nearby Towson, MD. The deacons of that church reached out to us and cared for us. We joined the Presbyterian church at that time, because of their caring outreach. It was a practical and intentional decision for my parents, because it was important for my parents to make this transition as immigrants, with a firm footing not only in faith in God, but in the community that shared that faith. Denominational ties were not as important.

What do you most appreciate about this tradition? 

Ours is a tradition that values knowledge and believes in evaluating continually what we profess to believe. We desire to deepen our faith by seeking knowledge and understanding, so we can grow to a renewed, deeper, and perhaps, transformed faith.  I appreciate the inclusive nature of our tradition that claims strongly in word and deed the “priesthood of all believers,” even when the desire to include “all” forces us to reinterpret our past understanding and stand toe-to-toe in conflict when that new interpretation rattles and unnerves people who are resistant and fearful of that change.

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

Related to the previous question/answer, because we value expanding our knowledge and experience, and because we value inclusiveness, we need to address the issue of who are invited to the process of creating those conversations that lead to changes in the larger system. Because of our denomination’s belief about being inclusive, we do a decent job of invite “minority” voices to leadership circles and committees of various levels, but are we really bringing “minority” voices? 

We need to be more honest with ourselves. Just because I am a female clergy of Korean descent, I get invited to all kinds of leadership opportunities. This is not a complaint. This is just a fact. However, I ask myself:  do I truly bring a minority voice? Yes, in certain context I do, but in other contexts, I do not. I have two master’s degrees from Presbyterian seminaries of distinction. I didn’t have to fight for my right to get married to my college sweetheart. When I bring my children somewhere, I am not asked if I’m their biological mother. I live in one of the most affluent counties in the United States, where I don’t have to worry about the quality of education my children are receiving with my tax dollars. I serve an affluent medium size church, where I don’t have to worry about whether or not I am going to receive my paycheck on time.  I live a privileged life as a person employed full-time in a respected profession. Am I really a good model of a minority voice? 

If we are genuinely concerned and invested in enlarging the pool of voices, we need to look beyond what we have typically looked in the past. All minorities are not all minorities. Diversity is not that easy to achieve.

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

Asian Pacific Americans share very little in common as a whole. When we say Asian Pacific Americans, we are talking about Americans of Asian and Pacific Islander descents. According to Wikipedia, yes, a very reliable source, this distinction of Asian Pacific American includes, "A person with origins in any of the original peoples of the Far East, Southeast Asia, the Indian subcontinent, or the Pacific Islands. This area includes, for example, China, Japan, Korea, the Philippines and Samoa; and on the Indian Subcontinent, includes India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Nepal, and Bhutan.” (U.S. Department of Labor Office of Federal Contract Compliance Program’s definition)

The “Asian” designation, alone, covers 49 different countries! So by designation itself, we embody diversity! Do I need to answer this any further? 

What led you to pursue ordination as a Teaching Elder?

I felt the “call” early on as a college student. I felt like I had something to offer those living a so-called a “hyphenated” life as Korean-Americans or Chinese-Americans, etc. I wanted to honor our first generation’s (Korean immigrants) understanding of what it means to be a faithful Christian, a faithful daughter, a faithful son, a faithful__fill in the blank____, while expanding what that “faithful” looked like in various contexts. I wanted to help bridge the gap between the different generations and different cultures, through providing different perspectives that are spiritual and theological and Biblical. So I pursued a master’s and with my MDiv., I felt like I could add my voice to the conversations concerning spirituality, faithfulness, best practices, discipleship, etc. that influenced and impacted faith communities. I struggled with the decision to seek ordination for various reasons. But eventually I got tired of being treated like a second-class citizen. I got weary of having to defend/ prove myself, simply because I did not have the “Reverend” title in front of my name. I finally got ordained as a Teaching Elder. Sexism is real. Racism is alive. The title gets me into places where I can add my voice about these and other issues that are plaguing our society, to raise awareness, to educate, and to move us out of complacency and a false sense of achievement.

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

I serve as Associate Pastor for Christian Formation at Fairfax Presbyterian Church.  Fairfax Presbyterian Church is a 600 + member church, 92% White and 8% others that include Asian Americans, African Americans, Middle Eastern, and Hispanic members. Located in the suburb of an economically diverse northern Virginia, our church welcomes people of diverse backgrounds, including theological and political views, but the reality is that most of our members are in the privileged class.  

My role as Associate Pastor of Christian Formation is to provide educational opportunities through worship experiences, programs, and relationship building experiences, to nurture faith in Christ, from cradle to grave.

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

Our denomination can best benefit and be enriched by the perspectives of Asian Pacific American Presbyterians, and other non-dominant ethnic groups for that matter, by listening to their specific stories, valuing those stories, learning from them, and including them to broaden and enlarge our understanding of how God works in the world. God speaks to all people and all people have stories to tell of God. These stories should be heard and embraced, so as to recognize the power and value that are inherent in them. These stories should be valued, not because they are “minority” stories that make our denomination look diverse, but because they are telling the stories of God who has always worked in the margins. These stories should be learned and included as stories to nurture our spirituality, not in the spirit of tokenism, but in the spirit of humble desire to learn from all people of God, and because their stories reflect various ways in which God works through and around people. Our denomination will grow spiritually, qualitatively and quantitatively, when we are willing to share leadership, decision-making, and power with voices in the margins - true margins.  

Monday, May 11, 2015

The Rev. Bruce Reyes-Chow

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 back at previous posts:
Presbyterians Celebrating Asian Pacific American Heritage Month
The Rev. Charlene Han Powell
The Rev. Phil Tom
The Rev. Yena Hwang
The Rev. Joann Haejong Lee
The Rev. Shawn Kang
The Rev. Neal Presa
The Rev. Jim Huang

The Rev. Bruce Reyes-Chow is a writer, speaker, pastor, former moderator, and walker of the dog in San Francisco, CA.




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

I was born into the Presbyterian Church via Trinity Presbyterian Church. Trinity was founded by Filipino farmworkers during the labor strikes in the Central Valley in the 50's. My church, like many, struggles with being small, always on the fiscal edge, and meeting the needs of the "next generation" of members. At the same time, it is one that has always been had the heart of community organizing, takes on issues of injustice, and has been progressive in surprising ways.

What do you most appreciate about this tradition?

As frustrating and plodding as it can be, our commitment to the idea that we best discern the mind of Christ and the will of God together keeps me here. In a day and age where speed seems to be currency of the day, our willingness to move slowly together rather than to move quickly alone is what I value about our system and tradition.

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

We must embrace the reality that we can be Presbyterian in many forms. Coming out of a generation of monolithic denominational entities where we built one-size-fits-all communities, we have to break our addition to successful church models which are usually are about size, style, structure, and form. We must no longer treat emerging versions of being Presbyterian as merely side-projects, last-resorts, or not "real" churches and joyfully create denominational structures that can support the abundance of niche Presbyterian entities that may be coming.

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

Food, costumes, and dance? 

But seriously folks -- the denomination first has to understand, at a deep level, the diversity of the Asian American experience. With a broad immigration narrative and wide ideological representation, we, in many ways, can model this idea of "niche" churches. Like many people of color, we live in multiple spaces and have found ways to be Asian American in all of them. Our ability to step, jump, meander from cultural context to cultural context, once embraced, can provide a perspective on what it means to be "diverse" and "multicultural" beyond the window dressing that drives so much of our efforts.

What led you to pursue ordination as a Teaching Elder?

My mom told me to. Seriously.

I really wandered into the ministry. No dreams in the night or vision out of the womb, but a series of events that lead me to the possibility that ministry might be a path worth travelling. Like many young, brown folks who show a bit of interest in church, the "you should go to seminary" mantra was whispered into my ear early on. When this started, i was like, "Oh hell no. One, I am going to law school, and two, I see how some of you treat our pastor." But after a while, the seeds of justice-seeking planted by my mom and church began to tug me in the direction of ministry.

That said, I never felt called until after the first church that I served and eventually flamed out of. While not a big fan of the "failure" culture that is out there, this was definitely a fallowed season that forged my understanding of call, ministry, and what it mean to pastor.

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

Hmmm, the dreaded, "So what DO you do?" question.

After pastoring for 17 years I now spend most of my time speaking, writing, coaching, consulting, and parenting. I have written a couple of books, speak at events, consult with churches, coach church planters, and enjoy my time chauffeuring my kids from event to event. Our family worships at Seventh Avenue Presbyterian Church in San Francisco which is a church that is liturgically formal, but theological progressive. It is not all that ethnically diverse, but it offers a community that shares in communion every week and lives that ritual out in abundance.

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.  

Monday, May 4, 2015

The Rev. Charlene Han Powell

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. 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

The Rev. Charlene Han Powell of New York, NY, is the Associate Pastor for Education and Engagement at Fifth Avenue Presbyterian Church.




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

Both.  I grew up going to a Korean church but would attend a “white” Presbyterian church as well. However, I didn’t truly come into my Presbyterian identity until I was in seminary.  During that time, I also learned that my great grandfather was one of the first Presbyterian ministers in Korea before it was divided. It is definitely in my roots.

What do you most appreciate about this tradition?

What I love about being Presbyterian is our Reformed theology.  Ecclesia Reformata, Semper Reformanda.  On our best days, we acknowledge that we are still in progress, still changing, still listening, still reforming.  The mere fact that our confessional canon isn’t closed yet is huge and says something about how responsive we are to our current contexts and what God is still doing in our midst today.

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

I think we need to remember and revisit what it means to truly be Reformed.  Our love and devotion to “tradition” often keeps us from honoring the key aspects of who we are as Presbyterians.  The church needs to be listen to new voices and be open to radical change not out of fear of extinction, but because that is what we are called to do as Presbyterians and as Christians.  

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

My favorite Korean word is han.  It has no English translation and it is hard to even define in Korean. It is deep sadness and yet unending hope. It is bitterness and angst and yet pride and resiliency.  In short, it is the tension of the “not yet”.  Han is attributed to the intensity in which Koreans live, grieve, rejoice, and survive. It is not so different than the world of “not yet” that Christians live in. Christ has risen but has not yet come again.  We suffer in our humanity, yet hope in our salvation. My han perspective can enrich our denomination as it figures out how to identify itself again as a struggling people and not just as a powerful institution. 

What led you to pursue ordination as a Teaching Elder, or not pursue it?

I love witnessing the moment when someone gets it.  And by “gets it”, I mean, understanding how deep, how wide, and how amazing God’s love is.  I have found that I get to be privy to that moment as a teaching elder. I get to walk with people as they discover and rediscover God’s love for them and for humanity.

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

I am the Associate Pastor for Education and Engagement at Fifth Avenue Presbyterian Church.  I oversee Young Adults, Family Ministries, Adult Education and Community Groups.  My title used to be Associate Pastor for Christian Education, but I found that to be redundant and limiting.  We don’t do education just for the sake of education, but rather the hope is that the more we learn about God, the more we love God.  That is why the engagement aspect of my call has become a lot more prevalent.

FAPC is a pretty diverse church for the PCUSA.  We have a large Malagasy and Filipino population.  In worship, I would say 15% are non-white.

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

I think our denomination can be enriched by the perspectives of APAP because, let’s be honest, our denomination is struggling and Asian Pacific Americans not only know struggle, we know how to grow in spite of and in the midst of struggle.