UM Bishop Jung
Says Korean UM Churches are Graying, as are All UM Churches
Wisconsin clergyman will become the first Korean leader of the United Methodist congregations of northern Illinois
By Manya A. Brachear
More than a century ago, missionaries from the West ventured to Korea and launched a Methodist movement that would grow into a vital presence in the global church.
Now Korean Methodists who immigrated to the United States say they hope to repay a lifelong debt by reinvigorating the American church with the same fervor its missionaries gave them years ago.
They have found one symbol of that hope in Rev. Hee-Soo Jung, of Appleton, Wis., who on Wednesday begins his term as the first Korean bishop to lead 125,000 United Methodists in northern Illinois. Many Koreans in the church believe Jung's election will help unify liberals and conservatives and revive a missionary spirit that will unite all ethnicities.
"I always believed in the passionate spirituality of the Korean community and at the same time its passion for mission and outreach," Jung said Tuesday. "At the same time, as a young church on American soil it has a lot of potential to strengthen for the future. Our main denomination is kind of aging, but young immigrant churches are fresh in many ways."
Of the 400 churches represented by the Northern Illinois Conference, more than 20 are Korean congregations that share the traditions and piety that appealed to Jung as a convert in South Korea. Jung, 49, was baptized into the Korean Methodist Church when he was 16.
In 1903, a group of Korean immigrants, more than half of them Methodists, sailed from Korea to Hawaii to labor on sugarcane plantations. With the help of American Methodist missionaries, they ministered to other immigrants. Since then, about 420 Korean United Methodist churches have been founded across the United States.
"Because the history of people in the Korean Peninsula is very unique--they've been under colonialism, North and South, Korean War, all kinds of suffering--religion became a [way] to create collective hope for the future," Jung said.
"I think that's why probably it is really strong and popular," he said. "Church constantly offers hope within lots of hardworking young immigrants. . . . Church offers them a place to belong and a place to learn and to reaffirm together."
Jung said the "silent exodus" of young people is not an issue exclusive to the Korean church but touches the entire United Methodist denomination. It can be solved, he said, by empowering them.
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