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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.


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