Asian clergywomen, theologians gather at Garrett

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Assistant General Secretary for Finance and Administration,
General Commission on the Status and Role of Women

Many people can walk into a classroom, worship service or meeting and see colleagues or leaders who look like themselves. But for the Asian feminists who gathered at a theology and ministry conference in mid-March, it was an extraordinary experience.

“I can come here and look at a room of women with whom I have common tradition and struggles. It is a sense of relief because there are similarities” said Yuki Schwartz, PhD student and co-coordinator of the Asian and Asian American Ministry Center at Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary in Evanston, Ill.

The 28th annual Pacific, Asian, and North American Asian Women in Theology and Ministry conference met at Garrett March 14-16. Of the 65 participants, 30 are United Methodist affiliated. And 6 of the 30 are part of the Women of Color Scholar program by the General Board of Higher Education and Ministry (see following post).

Ahyun Lee, PhD student and co-coordinator of the Asian and Asian American Ministry Center at Garrett, appreciated the opportunity to meet with other Asian women pastors or theologians.

“I am able to share similar stories and we have a shared cultural understanding because we belong to a particular group: Asian women,” she said.

Many of the participants said they found it lonely to be the “only” Asian women at their schools or church appointments. They come to conference to get support for their Asian feminist voice in their work, and it becomes their “trusting space” to fellowship, share their challenges and be comfortable.

“There is such a need for spaces such as this . . . because we are constantly dealing and wrestling with issues of race and transnational history in our churches,” said Kelly Lee, a student in the master of divinity program at Drew and in the Greater New Jersey annual conference. “Whether we will be in cross-cultural ministries or a predominantly white congregation where we would be the ethnic pastor, the discourses from this conference really feed our intellectual conversation as well as give us a space to rest in the comfort of fellow Asian/AsAm sisterhood.”

The conference supports academics, graduate students and pastors in the local church setting. There were discussions regarding the theme of “Dangerous Memories – Theologies in a Time of War and Healing” as well as practical workshops.

Boyung Lee, Associate Professor of Education Ministries at Pacific School of Religion and Elder of the California Nevada Conference, credits the early United Methodist women such as Jung Ha Kim (Senior Lecturer at Georgia State University) who helped support her as well as her colleagues through their ministries. Boyung Lee is proud to say she is a product of the pioneer Asian women in theology.

Asian Americans are 4% of the U.S. population and the fastest-growing minority group in the country, outpacing Hispanics. From 2000-2010, the Asian population grew 46 percent. Asian Americans also have the highest percentage of inter-racial marriages, at 29%. Many Asians Americans are no longer in large urban areas such as New York or San Francisco but in smaller communities.

The United Methodist Church has 358 Asian churches, 1.1% of the total. Asian American clergywomen (187) make up 2.2% of the women clergy. Nearly 60% of the Asian American women clergy (105) are in cross-racial appointments, primarily leading white churches.

Ouk-Yean Jueng, district superintendent in the Northern Illinois Conference, shared with students the practical information needed to go through the candidacy process and the challenges of cross-racial appointments.

“Asian students have much fear and difficulties… they hear stories from others who had many problems because of language, cultural barriers and legal process for working in the U.S.,” she said.

Most Korean UM churches are led by Korean clergymen, not clergywomen. Asian clergywomen who want to be in a local church would most likely serve in a cross-cultural appointment.

There are many challenges for this small group, but the conference has deliberately made space for Asian Americans and Asian women, students, professors and pastors, first generation and immigrants.

“The conference helps us to be authentic Asian American or Asian women and faithful United Methodists,” Lee said. “This forum provides us to integrate our multiple identities.”

“The conference helps us to be authentic Asian American or Asian women and faithful United Methodists,” Boyung Lee said. “This forum provides us to integrate our multiple identities.”

Boyung Lee, herself the first Asian/Asian American student in the Boston College Doctoral Program, credits the group with supporting and nurturing her.  She is paying it forward to help other Asian/Asian American women in theological education or ministry.

As United Methodist in the United States are trying to grow their membership, they are finding more leaders, clergy and professors of different ethnic groups can help us understand the population we serve.

The conference is held yearly and meets at Garrett again in 2014.  If you or if someone you know in your church, conference or school may benefit from being a part of this group, please go to

PANAAWTM is run through volunteers and donations.  If you or your church would like to make a financial contribution, please contact Dr. Anne Joh at [email protected]


Words from a student who attended the conference for the first time:

My name is Kelly Lee. I am in my last semester of my MDiv program at Drew Theological Seminary. I belong to the Greater NJ Annual Conference and am discerning my way through the ordination process.

This year’s PANAAWTM theme was, “Dangerous Memories: Theologies in times of War and Healing.” Living in the 21st century, we know all too well the realities of war and, perhaps know less about the dire need for healing in our communities affected by the war.  Through this conference, I was reminded once again that within our ever-growing diversity and multi-ethnic churches in the UMC the different memories, histories, and understanding of war that affected us transnationally despite our existence together here in America as one body of faith.

As a young Asian American woman on the ordination track, the journey of discovering my true self in the image of God beckons for my constant awareness of the world around me in connection to the inner workings of faith. The various voices offered at PANAAWTM provided a space for me to grapple with the multiple roles that encompass my identity, particularly the critical intersections of race, theology and transnational history as I wrestled with how all of these factors exist silently within our congregations today.

As a first-time participant, I felt empowered and welcomed to come and participate in this discourse with Asian/Asian American women who have long journeyed their own thoughts and spiritualties in their respective areas of ministries (academic institutions, churches, NGOs, etc). The sharing of their research and simply their life stories has encouraged me to recognize that these issues must continue to be in dialogue not only with each other but to the larger world that we engage in.

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