We were at Red Lobster.
Reverend Um, who had graciously invited me to preach at his church’s revival night, asked me a matter-of-fact question.
How long will you preach for tonight?
I became anxious.
Uh… probably, around 25–30 minutes or so?
He looked at me, bewildered.
Uh… but I’m adaptable. I can cut it shorter.
His bewilderment remained. Then he said to bewilderment of my own:
If you preach less than 60 minutes,
our young adults will be disappointed.
Currently under my first appointment as a Methodist pastor, I serve a medium-sized, mostly Anglo, suburban church in Southwest Houston. I cannot begin to adequately share how much I have been blessed by the congregation and the rest of the pastoral staff here. Several of our church members spend the majority of their free time serving local prisons, building habitat homes, and blessing our community in multiple ways. The three other pastors on staff have become great friends and mentor figures to me. They have journeyed alongside me as I have learned so many things seminary doesn’t teach you about pastoral ministry.
As a charismatic/pentecostal Los Angeles-raised Korean-American serving in a mainline protestant context, I often wonder if this is what an interracial marriage is like. I am falling in love with a culture much different than my own. At the same time, I am introducing a culture different to my congregation. From simple things like utilizing the gender neutral second person personal pronoun (“y’all”), to learning different forms of corporate prayer (“Lord in your mercy, hear our prayer”), I have enjoyed getting to know Texas Methodism. At the same time, I have been able to inhabit this new space while introducing some of my own traditions. I once led my home group in tongsung kido. Surprinsgly, they responded very well. I thought they might shout JOO-YUHHH!! MIDSEUMNEEDAH!! at some point.
The following picture of me leading the women’s Thursday morning Bible Study depicts the cross-cultural nature of my appointment really well.
Thursday Morning Women's Bible Study
Christ Church Sugar Land
One of the more notable adjustments for me in Texas has been sermon length. A homily at our church is roughly 20–25 minutes. I’ve managed to stay within that time frame about 4 times in 45 tries in the last year and a half lol. I assure you that this is not an act of rebellion. I was formed in the charismatic house churches of Los Angeles, where sermon length was always determined by the preacher’s spontanaeity. To be clear, sometimes I wished it wasn’t. This has been a growing edge for me. My senior pastor and congregation have been so gracious with me as I’m learning to abide by the rules of the house.
But for a weekend in Oklahoma City, I was invited to go back to my roots.
Your Roots Shape Your Routes
I felt like a freestyle rapper returning to the freedom of speaking off the top, taking a break from writing 16 bar singles for popular consumption (which is a good skill to have!). And beyond sermon length, I got to speak to my fellow bicultural Korean-American immigrant family. There was less cultural translation, more natural conversation. I spontaneously spoke on the variance in Confucian Korean culture, independent American culture, and the culture that Jesus seemed to cultivate amongst his disciples. I spoke on the identity and mission of a local church, and challenged them to consider the appropraite relationship between an immigrant congregation and its relationship to its literal surrounding neighbors.
And then, of course, each sermon ended with 45 minutes of prayer and worship. Each night, service began at 7pm and ended no sooner than 9:15.
It was a breath of fresh air, an affirmation of vocation and gifting, and a reinvigoration to continue to learn and inhabit my authentic self in cross-cultural contexts.
The United Methodist Church
I left with a deeper appreciation for the United Methodist Church and our diversity as a denomination. I loved that my sermon on upholding our baptismal vows were in reference to the same covenant that my congregation in Houston seeks to uphold.
A big thank you to Reverend Um and the entire Morning Light UMC community for having me! And a big thank you the Christ UMC Sugar Land for allowing me to travel! Let’s uphold our vows together!