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Building For The Future: The Korean UCC

 By Rev. Hojun Chang

     There were 60 inches of snow on the ground when I departed Connecticut for paradise… aka California.    Of course, as many a story has shown, the “road to the paradise” is not easy.  As if to prove the point, my airplane, which was supposed to arrive at 1:00pm, reached Los Angeles well past 11:00pm.   Fortunately, Gary Roberts, a self-dubbed “night person,’ was waiting at the airport to give me a ride – and the feeling that the UCC Korean Introduction class I was to teach would be a success.
     Only the second such class offered in the 50-year history of the United Church of Christ, it was planned to further the work done at the first, held in Atlanta, GA in April, 2010 with the support of the South East Conference, the Local Church Ministry (LCM) and the Center for Progressive Renewal (CPR).  In addition, this class could be considered more meaningful in that it was to take place in Los Angeles, the USA city with the largest number of Korean immigrants.

     According to the statistics in 2010, there are more than 4000 Korean churches in the United States, about 1300 of which are located in California.  Only seven of them are UCC.  I, who have been a member of the UCC for 12 years, felt ashamed that our church is but little known to Korean immigrants.  It was for this reason that I wanted this class to be held in Los Angeles.
     To that end I contacted Rev. Félix Villanueva, the Conference Minister of UCC’s Southern California Nevada Conference.  He was enthusiastic about the idea and, thanks to the active cooperation of the Conference and the LCM, we were soon able to offer the class.

     The main focuses of the class were an introduction of the history and policy of the UCC and the presentation of a future-oriented ideal model of the Korean immigrant churches based on the motto of the UCC, “God is Still Speaking.” It was stressed that the current conservative format of Korean churches, one unconnected to the realities of the greater society in which they live, could not successfully institute the changes needed for the next generation of the church.  I introduced the participants to Laity Ministry, Diversity Ministry and Justice and Witness Ministry – the church working with and within American society to meet the social responsibilities of the church, the church integrating into American society while keeping the unique Korean identity and culture and UCC providing the basis of the ministry for the future.

     The participants expressed a strong interest in both the structure and mission statement of the UCC, which they had never experienced before,  and in the church’s “extravagant welcome.” Four participants (out of ten) decided on the spot to seek affiliation with the UCC.  Another important outcome was excellent news coverage by several Korean papers and News and Joy, a major Korean Christian internet site.

     Although many Korean churches share buildings with UCC churches belonging to the Southern California Nevada Conference, none were represented at this class.  Rev. Villanueva has asked me to return soon to introduce the UCC to these Korean churches living in UCC buildings and to other Koreans in Los Angeles.  This I am delighted to do.
     The United Church of Christ has a 390-year history dating back to the Pilgrim but, within the Korean American community, one of only 2 years.  I invite and encourage you to take a take an interest in UCC’s Korean ministry and to pray for it.

     I sincerely thank the Southern California Nevada Conference which did so much to make this event possible.  My deepest gratitude goes to Gary Roberts, who “mothered” the project, silently watching over proceedings held in Korean language (which he doesn’t understand).   Thanks, too, to Rev. Tanuvasa and the First Samoan Church of Los Angeles, who hosted Korean pastors  – and a big hug to Rev. Mrs. Foai, who provided fantastic Samoan food, a special treat never to be forgotten.

     It is said that Jesus told his disciples, “If you love those who love you…if you greet only your brothers, what are you doing more than others?  Do not even pagans do that?”

     After this class, I asked myself: “What am I doing more than others, what is UCC doing more than others?”

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