My journey toward my ordination day was not an ordinary one compared to most Asian American women pastors. My fight was not for the church to accept me; rather, it was an inward battle of reconciling with my culture, identity, and faith.
The church I am currently a part of was founded by both a male and female pastor in an effort to create a culture of equality from its conception. I watched both women and men lead worship, teach courses, and preach at the pulpit alongside one another. Since my early twenties, I have been given leadership opportunities and encouraged to grow in my gifting and calling. My first serving opportunity was leading a small group of high school students. We modeled our time after Acts 2:42 by cooking, eating, and sharing life together. I have led small groups for nearly ten years since then for both women and men. It was through these relational spaces that I learned how to lead with deep empathy, how to navigate difficult conversations, and how to be present for people within our community. In addition, I was encouraged to give the announcements every Sunday to get me used to public speaking, and I was given a space on the newsletter every week to share a meaningful topic to hone my writing skills. I was freely given the opportunity to explore, to learn what my gifts were, and to prepare for my calling.
My path toward ministry was clear due to the support I found within my church at the time, but it was difficult for my parents to accept my choice due to their own trauma and experiences surrounding family members who had previously committed their lives to the church. They had witnessed them going through financial struggles and were fearful of their youngest daughter voluntarily becoming a global missionary in a country that persecuted Christians. Korean American culture is deeply communal, and many of us place a high value on filial piety. My parents’ desire for me to choose another profession caused me to doubt whether I was really called into ministry. I did not want to disobey my parents and I also carried a fear of being disowned.
I was further conflicted because their denial of my choice for ministry felt as if they were rejecting who God had created me to be. This inward conflict as well as my fear of financial instability, led me to pursue a career in higher education for nearly five years before I made the decision to fully step into ministry. Those five years were crucial as I found reconciliation between my culture, identity, and faith. God showed me that my unique identity was shaped because I was a part of two cultures that I felt often competed with one another. Was I Korean or was I American? Was Christianity more aligned to my Korean culture or my American culture? I found that I was seeking a linear identity, not an integrated one. I was both Korean and American, individualistic and communal, assertive and docile. I could be both of each dichotomous pair and still be identifiable as a unique individual made in the image of God. This realization granted me the permission to take the risk of pursuing my calling while honoring my parents throughout the process.
PastoraLab (a program for Asian American women ministers at ISAAC, Innovative Space for Asian American Christianity) came right at the time that I had made this pivotal decision. The lead pastor of my church, John Park , had connected with the executive director, Young Lee Hertig, through Facebook. They set up a meeting and found that they were deeply influenced and impacted throughout their lives by the same people. John introduced me to Young shortly after, and she invited me to apply for PastoraLab. It was one of the best decisions I have ever made. As I began my program at Fuller, I found myself at a table surrounded by at least a dozen other Asian American women of faith who had shared in similar struggles. It was in this space of thriving that I was given the opportunity to learn from seasoned ministers, sift through my identity, and challenge my existing perspectives in new ways. It is incredible what happens when you are in a space of belonging. As my identity was solidified, my calling became more clear. It was out of this space of abundance that I was able to navigate situations in my workplaces in ways I would not have been able to, challenging systems and making bold choices.
It was also here that I learned, for the first time, how women, particularly Asian American women, are painfully denied ordination within the church, due to their gender. According to the 2018 National Congregations Study, less than 5 percent of American churches are led by women of color, and even fewer Asian American women pastors are seen in predominantly Asian Congregations. This is mainly due to the patriarchal culture that is adopted into church settings. I felt privileged to not have experienced what many of these women have had to endure, and I also feel it is now my responsibility to give back to my community what I have been freely given.
My ordination in 2021 was an outward commitment not only to my church but also to this world. My conviction is to pass down a more genuine, beautiful, and authentic expression of faith that bears witness to the truth of who God is. A part of that is to show how amazing it is when women are given the freedom to carry out their calling in pastoral leadership. How healthy and vibrant it is for the church as a body to experience a woman in leadership. Until this is a reality, I will commit toward investing in women through programs such as PastoraLab so they can continue developing their gifts and have a space that fully accepts them as they are. My deepest hope is that we remain uncomfortable in superficiality, work tirelessly for justice, remain empathetic, and have enough foolishness to believe we can do what others claim cannot be done.
Photo by Edu Grande on Unsplash.
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