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Study reveals challenges, offers solutions for first generation Korean Americans pursuing careers in ministry

Tyrus Sturgis
September 18, 2015

The Korean American Clergy Ordination Task Force report proposes solutions to issues affecting first generation Korean Americans seeking ordination in the United Methodist Church
The Korean American Clergy Ordination Task Force report proposes solutions to issues affecting first generation Korean Americans seeking ordination in the United Methodist Church. (Photo by Donnie Reed)

In 2014, the Korean Ministry Plan and the Korean Association of The United Methodist Church (KAUMC) Future Planning Committee created a task force to study the concerns surrounding the ordination process for first generation Korean Americans in the United Methodist Church.

The task force studied and analyzed the experiences of first generation Korean Americans pursuing ordination in the United Methodist Church. KAUMC will use the findings to become more effective in supporting those candidates and to make the ordination process fair and inclusive. The task force includes:

Rev. Grace Pak, Task Force Chair
Rev. Paul Chang of the Korean Ministry Plan
Rev. Kun Sam Cho
Rev. Eugene Han
Rev. Pauline Kang
|Rev. HiRho Park of the General Board of Higher Education and Ministry

“The issues surrounding the ordination of Korean-Americans in the United Methodist Church is complicated with many facets and layers,” says Grace Pak. “We sought to identify these facets and layers in hopes that our church, the United Methodist Church, can continue to be vital witnesses of Jesus Christ in the world.” Pak also believes the study will be beneficial beyond the Korean American community. “I believe this report sheds light on the experiences and struggles of all ethnic minority persons who are responding to God’s call to ministry in the United Methodist Church.”

The task force interviewed and surveyed 24 first generation Korean American candidates, with 19 candidates responding to surveys. Survey results revealed four primary issues:

Lack of Networking Opportunities within the Connection

The survey found that 100 percent of respondents were born outside the United States and have lived in the country for an average of four years. As a result, there are few supportive relationships and networking opportunities. In response, the task force suggests introducing Korean American candidates at national and regional KAUMC gatherings and encouraging further networking in the community.

Language and Cultural Differences

Half of survey respondents indicated that it would be helpful to have a Korean translator present during their ordination interview. Among the task force recommendations is proposed legislation to the 2016 General Conference to have the Board of Ordained Ministry provide translators upon request or when needed. More than half of respondents also stated that they are not familiar with mainstream American culture, which could exacerbate the language barrier issue. The task force is contemplating cultural workshops and mentoring among its solutions to communication issues.

Legal Immigration Status

Citizenship status can also create difficulties for Korean American candidates in the ordination process. Fifty-three percent of candidates indicated that their VISA/immigration status has affected their ordination process. The task force also noted that many Annual Conferences do not have a supportive system of assisting candidates with legal immigration status. The task force resolved that a candidate’s immigration status should not prevent the pursuit of the ordination process and recommends apprising candidates of resources available to assist with citizenship issues. The committee further suggests formally addressing related issues during the 2020 General Conference.

Experiences of Racial/Ethnic Discrimination

Based on candidate feedback, discrimination (or unfair treatment) is not an issue for the majority of respondents. Only 21 percent of respondents indicated that they have experienced racism or prejudice during the ordination process. That number was sufficient for the task to recommend creating a fairness and justice committee within the KAUMC to listen and guide ordination candidates who are experiencing discrimination.

Pak hopes that the report can serve as catalyst in helping move the church forward. “As we identify the issues and understand the complex landscape surrounding the ordination and full-membership of Korean-Americans in the UMC, we can begin to strategize and map out ways to engage our denomination to acknowledge the call God has placed on all God’s people and mobilize those for the sake of God’s kingdom.”

Click here to read the full report of the Korean American Clergy Task Force.