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Korean-American Provisional Annual Conference a First for the Global Methodist Church

By Walter Fenton

Rev. Kevin Ryoo, chief connectional officer for the Korean-American PAC.

Earlier this month, the Global Methodist Church’s Transitional Leadership Council authorized the launch of its first non-geographical conference, the Korean-American Provisional Annual Conference. It is set to hold its first official gathering May 6-9, 2024, in Dallas, Texas.

A coalition of Korean American clergy and lay leaders collaborated over the past year to establish the historic provisional annual conference. The group, like others before them, first created a transitional conference advisory team to facilitate the formation process. However, a unique aspect of this advisory team was its focus on exploring the feasibility of a conference organized along ethnic rather than geographical lines. This approach aimed to address the language and cultural needs of the Korean American members. To ensure a diverse representation to oversee the initiative, the advisory team was comprised of men and women from various regions across the United States.

“When we started this journey, we knew there would be questions and challenges,” said the Rev. Kevin Ryoo, the new conference’s chief connectional officer. “Why a conference based on ethnicity? How will local churches thousands of miles apart unite together? And what’s the future for such an entity? Korean American Methodists have actually thought long and hard about these questions well before joining the GM Church.”

Ryoo and the Rev. Dr. Han Seung Koh, the new conference’s president pro tem, explained the biggest drivers for an ethnically based conference were language and cultural issues. Korean clergy and laity, almost all former United Methodists, believed the UM Church’s conference system diminished their influence. While there were over 250 Korean American local churches in the UM Church in 2020, they were scattered around approximately 50 annual conferences. Consequently, they were few in number in any given annual conference and the language barrier only contributed to their sense of isolation. Various attempts were made to address their concerns such as the proposed Korean American Missionary Conference, but it failed to gain approval at the UMC’s 1996 General Conference.

Korean American leaders believe that establishing a dedicated annual conference for their ever-growing community, will strengthen their bonds with one another while fostering closer connections and shared experiences. Leaders hope to amplify their collective voice to allow for greater influence in the GM Church. When the Korean American Provisional Annual Conference gathers in Dallas for its convening annual conference, Ryoo and Koh believe it will embody around 50 local GM churches as member congregations and they anticipate the number will climb to approximately 150 by 2029.

Rev. Dr. Han Seung Koh (center), president pro tem of the Korean-American PAC, on a mission trip to Haiti.

“We are very invested in planting and multiplying local churches,” said Ryoo. “Our community has a strong record of planting and nurturing local churches that grow spiritually and numerically. As we work together and build connection among our existing congregations, we see great opportunities to plant new churches in places like Atlanta, Chicago, Los Angeles, New Jersey, New York, and Virginia.”

Koh added, “The Korean-American PAC does not exist solely as a network for Korean American churches. We fully intend to work with our GM Church brothers and sisters inside and outside of the KAPAC. I am confident we will sow seeds of hope for the future, and become a conduit of God’s grace, sharing the joy of fulfilling the GM Church’s mission among people all around the world.”

Bishop Mark Webb, who presides over the Korean-American Provisional Annual Conference in addition to other conferences, said, “Our Korean brothers and sisters are widely known for their strong emphasis on prayer. They’ve challenged all of us to go deeper in our prayer lives during the formation of the GM Church. Now, they’re pushing us to think outside the box as they try to find a better way to help the Church fulfill its mission. I am blessed and humbled to be part of it, and look forward to its convening conference and all that will follow in its wake.”

According to a paper by GM Church Bishop Emeritus Young Jin Cho (“The Next Methodism and Korean American Methodists”), Korean American Methodism traces its beginning to the migration of 102 Korean men, women, and children to Hawaii, shortly after the islands became a U.S. territory in 1900. The Koreans worked on sugar plantations, and were followed by over 8,000 more migrants in 1905. Nearly 40 “worship stations” were planted across the islands near the plantations where the people worked. Eventually, some of the workers moved to the U.S. mainland, and took their strong faith with them, planting churches in cities like Los Angeles and San Francisco. By the mid 1970s, nearly 30,000 Koreans were immigrating to the U.S. every year. They contributed to the growth of Korean American Methodist local churches, particularly in large metropolitan areas across the country.

“As Bishop Cho explains in his paper, we Korean American Methodists are a persevering people,” said Ryoo. “We’ve suffered through persecutions in our homeland and here in the U.S., but our fidelity to scriptural Christianity, our vital worship services, and our passion for missions, which are all undergirded by powerful prayer ministries, have led to our flourishing.”

A young boy prepares for baptism at Tampa Korean Methodist Church (Tampa, Florida) in 2023.

Korean American local churches and pastors that have already joined a GM Church geographical conference can transfer to the Korean American Provisional Annual Conference by sending a letter to their current president pro tem notifying them of their intent to make the move.

Koh, the senior pastor at the Vine Church of New Jersey (Englewood), will continue his leadership there while serving as the president pro tem of the Korean American Provisional Annual Conference. He and his wife Ellen have two children.

Ryoo, currently based in Atlanta, Georgia, will serve full-time as the Korean American Provisional Annual Conference’s chief connectional officer. He and his wife Misook have two adult children.

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The Rev. Walter Fenton is the Global Methodist Church’s Deputy Connectional Officer.

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