From the Bishop
Our proud history
Bishop Young Jin Cho
It was the fall of 1951. Thirty-two Korean-Americans living in the Washington, D.C. area gathered at Foundry UMC. After having a worship service, they met and decided to start a Korean Methodist Church. It was the beginning of Korean UMC of Greater Washington which I served from 1983 to 2005 until I was appointed Arlington District Superintendent.
There is an interesting story in the beginning of this church. To pray for their home country in war the founding pastor and a key layperson agreed to start a Korean church. They visited a Presbyterian church first because bothof them were Presbyterians. But the Presbyterian church minister did not support their plan and told them to joinhis church instead of starting a new church. They were deeply disappointed. Then, they heard good news. The Rev. Frederick Brown Harris, then pastor of Foundry UMC, heard that Koreans had been looking for a place to worship. He opened his church and welcomed Koreans. Rev. Harris had known Dr. Syngman Rhee who used to attend his church while he stayed in Washington, D.C. for the independence movement for Korea during 36 years of Japanese colonization. Later, Dr. Rhee was elected the first president of the Republic of Korea.
The United Methodist Church opened the door for Korean-Americans and supported their mission and ministries from the beginning of the 20th century. Most of the oldest Korean churches in the large cities (Honolulu, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Oakland, Chicago, New York and Washington, D.C.) are all United Methodist churches. Our denomination opened the door early for ethnic people and supported their mission. This is our proud history.
The Virginia Conference started a Vietnamese-American mission church and also Latino-Hispanic ministries at some churches. We have a Ghanaian mission congregation, and some of our churches have diverse members from African countries. In some areas – especially in northern Virginia – the population is getting more diverse, and their missional needs are becoming urgent. Starting new ethnic churches is no longer an option, but a must for our future mission.
Our mission field has been rapidly changing. The mission of reaching out to diverse populations brings us not only challenges but also opportunities. It is not easy to overcome cultural and language differences. Sometimes differences may give us challenges, but being different is God’s design. God created all people as unique beings. Being different is not wrong. Difference means just being different. And we can learn and grow from each other’s differences.
It was my great joy to serve the Arlington District which is the most diverse district in the Virginia Annual Conference. I experienced many differences, but at the same time I found a great potential for God’s mission. Starting ethnic churches will be one of the great ways to expand our mission. Through these ethnic churches we can reach out to the people who have different cultures and languages.
But these ethnic churches can also open our eyes to better ways. We can learn the joy of praise and worship service from our ethnic brothers and sisters. We also learn the depth of spiritual life and strong commitment to the Lord from other ethnic churches. And ethnic churches can also learn democratic leadership and faithfulness in supporting missions from many Anglo churches.
I still remember the 2011 Arlington District Conference. After a brief business meeting, we had a choir festival on that day. Six churches (Anglo, African-American, Korean, Vietnamese, Ghanaian and Hispanic-Latino churches) took part in this choir festival, and all choir members sang Handel’s “Halleluiah Chorus” together at the end.
It was really a joyful celebration of our diversity. I felt gratitude to God for creating us differently and for thepower of oneness in Christ. It was truly a foretaste of the kingdom of God. Having ethnic churches on our district wastruly a blessing.
Starting ethnic churches will also give us many challenges. Our limited financial resources will sometimes delay or prevent us from carrying our vision of starting new ethnic faith communities. But we cannot give up these mission opportunities. We need to be more creative and prayerful in moving in this direction. Remember, “Where there is a will, there is a way.” If I change a couple of words, “Where there is God’s call, there is a way.” And I would like to say that I am one of the fruits of this mission. I am what I am because of the openness of our proud history.
In our Lord,
Young Jin Cho