I’ve been thinking a lot lately about how I want to live the rest of my life. I want to live well. I still feel like I’m doing okay as a pastor, and there doesn’t seem to be any major obstacles. Of course, compared to when I was in my 40s or 50s, I may not have the same level of energy, but I try not to waste time on unnecessary things or expend energy unnecessarily. I know my strengths and weaknesses. So, I don’t strive to be recognized by others for what I’m not, and I’m aware of my self-sufficiency. Living life this way is somewhat enjoyable to me.
The General Conference of the United Methodist Church is being held in Charlotte, North Carolina, from last Tuesday through next Saturday. I’m not fond of sitting in cramped spaces for long meetings, but this time, I unintentionally became the “alternate delegate #1,” which means I have to sit all day without the right to speak. If any delegate is unable to attend, I have to step in.
Among the 862 delegates at the conference, there are 6 Koreans. Three of them are female pastors, and the other 3 are laypersons, with one male among them. I and a Minnesota Conference district superintendent are designated as “alternate #1.” There is not a single male Korean pastor serving as a delegate. Most of the delegates are young. One of the delegates from the Virginia Annual Conference is the daughter of a pastor collegue, and one of the delegates from the New England Annual Conference is the daughter of a minister I supervised in Chicago. I baptized her as an infant. Honestly, I’ve had a good time being in the spotlight so far. But now, I realize that this is not the place for someone like me. In many ways, attending this conference feels awkward and uncomfortable for me. However, I’m trying to see the ambiguous responsibility given to me, along with the uncomfortable space and time, as opportunities for learning.
I feel that this denomination is not familiar to me. However, I feel good about it. It’s liberating. Jesus said, “No one pours new wine into old wineskins” (Luke 5:36). So, I am grateful to see a young delegate who I baptized confidently speaking up, while I am content to sit quietly in the background. I am pondering what young people are thinking and what dreams we older folks filled with the Holy Spirit should have for the future of the church, where these young people will be the leaders.
When asked for my opinion on the issues for this General Conference, I emphasized that regardless of the decisions made, it’s time to focus on the mission of the church. I’ve learned that what’s meant to happen will happen, and what’s not meant to be won’t. Above all, if it’s something the Lord intends to do, no human can stop it, and conversely, if it’s not meant to be, no human effort can make it happen. The proposal for regionalization, aimed at tailoring operations according to the contexts of regions like the US, Europe, Africa, and the Philippines, has been passed. Proponents of regionalization argued that it would eliminate the US-centric elements of “Neo- Colonialism” while opponents expressed concerns about avoiding influence from conservative factions in Africa and allowing the progressive factions in the US to have their way. Both sides have valid points. However, now that it’s been passed, it will be implemented. Once the train has left the station, there’s no turning back.
Last Thursday evening, the Eurasia Central Conference (Bishop Eduard Khegay) was approved for the resolution for an autonomous Methodist church. The day before, Bishop Khegay invited me to a nice restaurant and offered to pay, possibly considering it our last meal together as colleagues in the United Methodist Church. Until then, I had always been the one paying. It’s heartbreaking. But the Eurasia Central Conference, centered around Russia, found it difficult to remain attached to a denomination centered in the United States. It might be better for them in long run.
Next week, there will be a decision on changing the language of the Book of Discipline and Social Principles regarding the definition of marriage. The current wording specifies marriage as between one man and one woman, and the proposal is to change it to simply “two persons.” The United States has already approved this issue at the federal level. If it is rejected at this General Conference, it will likely be passed at the next one. Anticipating this, around 8,000 churches have already left. About 50 Korean churches have also joined the Global Methodist Church. While it would be good if the remaining churches could leave smoothly if they still need to, it may not be possible now. In that case, one should stay and do well.
It seems that those who struggle to protect their rights and dignity, as well as those who seek to preserve their self-interests, ultimately end up achieving what they desire. Marginalized people fight for their rights, while the privileged seek to maintain their staus-quo. Those who are indifferent to the course of history, as well as the foolish masses easily swayed by manipulation, are ruled by people in power.
Wearing a hearing aid is beneficial because it prevents me from speaking hastily and allows me to listen attentively to others. This helps me avoid embarrassment from talking nonsense. As I learn to ‘listen’ to others and my own self, I notice many things that weren’t apparent before. Attending this GC made me realize that our Korean UMC community has been like frogs in a well. Democracy is built by those who participate. Previously, we were satisfied with our achievements outside the main game of the United Methodist Church, thinking we excelled in our own circle. We had a strong misconception of “Korean Exceptionalism” and were content with small gains, thinking we were a “model minority.” I’ve learned that those in power will reward those who listen to them and can be rude to those who don’t. I’ve learned that without responsible participation, we will descend into a pitiful group.
I think of Joseph, who became the prime minister of Egypt. Despite enduring unjust and painful days, Joseph did not surrender his life to the wrongdoing of others but lived according to the dreams God showed him. We should not become like a colony controlled by the empire, the United Methodist Church. Instead, we should be proactively take full participation as we should. UMC is what we make of. We must take ownership and responsibility. We should strive to do our best instead of filling ourselves with complaints and grievances.
When you go out to the sea, you’ll find that the young peple ride the waves vigorously, while the old folks sit in chairs. However, when the Spirit comes, the old people will dream dreams, opening a world where the young can have visions. I find these words from the Bible truly wonderful.