Korean United Methodists choose prayer over plans

The Alternative Plan Task Force, the Central Committee and the executive committee of the Korean Association of the United Methodist Church pray together at a joint meeting held in August 2-3, 2018. Photo by Thomas Kim, UMNS
The Alternative Plan Task Force, the Central Committee and the executive committee of the Korean Association of the United Methodist Church pray together at a joint meeting held in August 2-3, 2018. Photo by Thomas Kim, UMNS

The Alternative Plan Task Force of the Korean Association of The United Methodist Church and its Central Committee met to discuss the 2019 Special General Conference and the future of the Korean United Methodist Church at the First Korean United Methodist Church in Chicago.

General Conference, the ultimate decision-making body of The United Methodist Church, is held every four years. This special session has been specifically called by the Council of Bishops and will be held Feb. 23-26, 2019, to address disagreements regarding human sexuality in the denomination. 

The Commission on a Way Forward consists of 32 members appointed by the Council of Bishops, and recently proposed three plans to discuss at the special conference. The three plans are the One Church Plan, the Connectional Conference Plan and the Traditional Plan.

In addition, the Council of Bishops has asked the Judicial Council, the highest court of the denomination, to decide whether the plans would violate the church constitution as found in the Book of Discipline. The Judicial Council will meet Oct. 23-26, 2018 in Zurich. The special General Conference is expected to consider as legislation the three plans, including those provisions that would require a constitutional amendment.

The Korean Association decided to form an Alternative Plan Task Force to handle this issue during the Central Committee meeting held in October 2017. The Alternative Plan Task Force, which was newly organized during a gathering of the association held in April 2018, as well as the Central Committee and the executive committee recently held a joint meeting.

During the opening worship service of this meeting, the Rev. Hannah Ka said, "We must change our life's value from doing to being. This means we respect each and every person in the body of Christ as a being of equal value before God."

"Jesus was interested in a Samaritan woman, a leper, a blind man, a bleeding patient, a child of a Gentile woman, a sinner, a tax collector and Judas Iscariot," said Ka.

"We have to realize that the thoughts of God are deeper and wider than our thoughts, and that our thoughts are only a part of God's infinite will. Even though our life experiences, situations and colors of faith are different, we are to hear the word of God rather than to pay attention to human beings," she concluded.

"There is a concern that the 2019 Special General Conference may be the beginning of a new conflict rather than a settlement and arrangement,” said the Rev. Paul H. Chang, executive director of the Korean Ministry Plan. “We, the church, should pray and work for the unity of the church, and the two extreme groups at both ends should concentrate on mission rather than division and separation."

The Rev. Kevin K. Ryoo of the Korean Association reported that as of 2015, the total attendance of Sunday worship of 222 Korean American Methodist churches is 36,186. The total amount of apportionment paid by 222 Korean churches is $4,953,797. They also spent $3,790,576 to support their own mission places. The Korean United Methodist Church contributed $8,744,373 for their apportionment and mission altogether.

However, Ryoo said that there are more than 100 churches that have been closed in the past 10 years, and 137 out of 222 churches have less than 100 attendees.

The executive committee also reported that they met with the Rev. Keith Boyette, the chairman of the Wesleyan Covenant Association on June 19, and Bishop Grant Hagiya, one of the bishops on the Commission on a Way Forward.

Although the Central Committee was expected to endorse one of the three proposed plans for the Special General Conference, it was agreed at the end of the in-depth discussion that the joint meeting would not support any of them at this time. But the Korean Association voted to begin a prayer movement for 100 days beginning on Jan. 1, 2019, and going through the Special General Conference in February, and the Korean Association’s annual gathering in April.

"By the decisions made in the 2019 and 2020 General Conferences, and by the events happening in the future, the shape of our church will be greatly changed,” said the Rev. Sang-Won Doh, senior pastor of Calvary Korean United Methodist Church in East Brunswick, New Jersey. “However, keeping and maintaining the denomination itself is never a priority.

“John Wesley, the founder of Methodism, said, ‘I am not afraid that the people called Methodists should ever cease to exist either in Europe or America. But I am afraid lest they should only exist as a dead sect, having the form of religion without the power.’ We will endeavor to discern the truth even in a chaotic reality so that we will continue to maintain our biblical identity.

“The Rev. JD Lew said, ‘It is so tough and it hurts to encounter our differences at such a time as this. Let us stand up and go together,’” said the Rev. Sarah Hong, expressing her consent to the decision of the Central Committee. "The voice of the clergywomen was accepted more than the last meeting."

The Rev. Yon Taek Bae said the gathering gave him hope.

"This meeting was different,” he said. “Even though there were differences, we shared our thoughts mutually. I had a feeling that we were all members of The United Methodist Church."

But not everyone is optimistic.

"I think the decision of the Special General Conference will affect the future of the church,” said one pastor from the East Coast. “I am afraid that the decision will promote unnecessary confusion and division among the healthy growing churches."

Myeong-rae Kim Lee, one of the leaders of the Korean American United Methodist Women and a member of the Way Forward Commission, recalled the history of the denomination. “In the 1800s, (U.S.) Methodism was divided into South and North due to slavery problems,” she said. “A great number of people were sacrificed in the Civil War. Even after that, there was a great conflict over the ordination of women, but now no one talks about slavery or the ordination of women.

"I hope that the Korean United Methodist Church, which has grown up as a fruit of the mission of The United Methodist Church, will now become a bridge of peace and unite the divisions of United Methodism."

Kim is the director of Korean/Asian news for United Methodist News Service in Nashville. Contact him at 615-742-5470 or newsdesk@UMNews.org. To read more United Methodist news, subscribe to the free Daily or Weekly Digests

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