In 2004, I was the fortieth Korean-American clergywoman to be ordained in the Presbyterian Church USA denomination. Forty seems like such a small number when you consider that, in 2011, Korean-American clergywomen will be celebrating their 20th anniversary. Many Korean-American women are still wandering the desert of the ordination process without a well, pitcher, or even a drop of water in sight to quench their thirst to serve as God has called them. There have been times when we wished there was a Moses to break the rock so that freedom and ability to serve as minister of the Word and sacrament would gush abundantly, but the reality is that many Korean-American women can not find the support they need to find a call.
This year, at the 219th General Assembly, the gathering was quite a historic moment for Korean-American clergywomen. Six of us were commissioners, serving in leadership positions. Like any good Korean, we can’t go long without a kimchee fix and were delighted to have a Korean meal sponsored by the National Council of Korean Presbyterian Churches.
We were disappointed, when during the presentation, only the accomplishments of the male clergy were recognized, when sitting before them were four wonderful, emerging female leaders of the church. All the kimchee in the world couldn’t make up for the invisibleness we felt. The lack of voice and feeling invisible was nothing new.
For years, without Moses to guide us through the wilderness or to crack rocks that would expose abundant sources of water, we depend on each other to carry us through the desert, to be wandering companions through the ordination process, to share water that is supplied by the tears of shared experiences and stories, and to remind each other of God’s faithfulness and greater purpose. You can imagine how surprised we were when a few of our voices changed the vote to organize another non-geographic, Korean language presbytery.
Our expectation and intention was not to change the vote, but simply to be heard and to speak on behalf of other Korean-American clergywomen who had no voice. While I recognize the legitimacy of having non-geographic presbyteries, some of the reasons I spoke against it revolved around lack of accountability on issues of inclusivity and ordination of women as well as lack of representation and leadership opportunities for non-Korean speaking, second/third generation Korean-Americans in those presbyteries. Because this overture passed overwhelmingly in committee, my only hope was that I would be able to get to a microphone in time to speak. I can’t describe in words the feeling that came over me when I saw the vote change.
Our few voices were heard by the greater body and it resulted in change. Our thirst and the thirst of many that went before us wasn’t only quenched, but almost drowned in the abundant gush of support that we felt. The theme for this General Assembly was “Out of the believer’s heart shall flow rivers of living water” (John 7.38) the verse right before Jesus cries out, “Let anyone who is thirsty come to me, and let the one who believes in me drink” (John 7.37-38, NRSV). That theme couldn’t have come more alive for me than it did at that moment. My hope now is that this action will make room for conversation so that together as a body, a Korean-American body, we can discern God’s will and call.