by Uiyeon Kim
Our town nestles at the foot of the beautiful Appalachian Mountains in western North Carolina and is populated mostly by blue-collar working-class families who used to be employed by the furniture factories all around this county.
Approximately ninety-four worshipers gather every Sunday at Trinity UMC, with the median age exceeding sixty-five years. Most of the members grew up in our church with their parents and their grandparents attending with them. This means that, for the majority of weekly worshipers, our church represents holy ground full of treasured memories of God, family, and friends stretching over multiple generations. After nearly five years as pastor here, I have come to appreciate and celebrate the unique and wonderful heritage. It is a place of beautiful complexity and surprising diversity in ways that cannot be noticed at first glance.
Indeed, our God continuously amazes us with serendipitous gatherings where unsuspecting people and unexpected circumstances collide with one another to bring about something new, wonderful, and faithful. I am a living witness to such wondrous ways of God. How else can one possibly explain the union of someone like me, a first-generation Korean immigrant from Seoul, South Korea (population 51 million), and the church that I serve here and now in a small town (population 18,000) in western North Carolina? I imagine that many might label me as a youthful progressive while perceiving our community as rural conservative.
Those from the outside looking into our little world might see very few commonalities or sustaining mutuality. When I first arrived, I thought I was sent to our church because they needed me to revive them—not knowing then just how desperately I needed them to save me. But I see now that I am without a doubt a more faithful pastor, husband, father, and friend than I was five years ago because of the sharing and the receiving of grace, mercy, and love through the life of our church. I often tell my parishioners that they gained ears to hear my words just as I gained a voice to speak their words, rooted in the land and in the body of Christ.
Today, I cannot imagine all of me without all of those in my church and community. Thus, the story of my Christian journey would be made incomprehensible without all of their stories, and this makes me think that if we, The United Methodist Church, should choose to go our separate ways due to the divisive conversation surrounding human sexuality, would a pastor like me ever be appointed to a church like I currently serve?
In Ruth chapter one, we witness the unshakable covenantal language shared between Ruth, the Moabite, and Naomi, the Jew.
[Naomi] said, “See, your sister-in-law has gone back to her people and to her gods; return after your sister-in-law.” But Ruth said, “Do not press me to leave you or to turn back from following you! Where you go, I will go; where you lodge, I will lodge; your people shall be my people, and your God my God. Where you die, I will die—there will I be buried.” (Ruth 1:15-17, NRSV)
In so many ways, it makes good sense for Ruth and Naomi to amicably separate. It is biblically supported and personally beneficial. But they commit themselves to a sense of mutual fate. Many years later, Martin Luther King, Jr., in his 1963 “Letter from a Birmingham Jail,” would echo such truth about our shared vocation, saying that “we are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.”
In walking away from one another, our past history, present reality, and future destiny will be rendered unintelligible to us and to the world that desperately needs our witness of unity. So let us come together, stay together, and may our Lord bind us together.
About the Author
Uiyeon Kim is the Pastor of Trinity UMC in Lenoir, North Carolina (Western North Carolina Conference). He emigrated from Seoul, South Korea, to Lubbock, Texas, with his family in 1991 and is married with two beautiful children. He is an elder in full connection.