What was your thinking about where the church needed to go as we entered a new decade?
I was always thinking about it, but especially the latter part of my ministry, I was really thinking that the church needed reformation… Another kind of reformation. It has become so institutionalized that we have lost a lot of the essence of Jesus’ teaching. The spirit of reformation was the ‘Sola scriptura’, meaning “scripture alone”. We needed to go back to what the scripture really says rather than our interpretation, or the church’s interpretation in history. The last 2000 years, there have been a lot of good teachings and good traditions, but as Martin Luther said “Tradition is a beautiful thing. True tradition is a living spirit of the dead, but traditionalism is the dead spirit of the living.” And we were falling into the traditionalism, which is a dead spirit of the living.
We wanted to revive that. I mean, there are beautiful traditions in Christian history. They have our ancestors of faith. They have to really interpret the scripture in a spiritual way. So when we read that we see the living spirit of the dead, but I wanted to go through the process of new reformation and it starts with the scripture. So our understanding of the scripture becomes the living spirit of the dead. So that’s how I was thinking a lot about the scripture and interpretation of the scripture through that if we really look at not only the church but also our essential existence, our life itself. That is what I had in mind, I may not be able to bring reformation for the whole world. It’s not political reformation, but at least in this small community, small village, at least we can start that process of interpreting the scripture in that critical and creative way so that people’s lives may be enriched and become abundant.
Can you tell us a little bit about the Women’s Bible Study?
At that time, the women, they gathered together and had prayer meetings every week. They told me their problems that they have. We’d have prayer meetings, scripture readings too, and reflection and studies, but we’re just going around and around. We get stuck. We don’t go beyond the surface level. Even though we read the scripture, we see and do the same thing over and over again, but we know that there’s more to the scripture than that. So they were struggling, and they would share their struggles. So I proposed starting a Bible study. Anyways, we chose Wednesday mornings. We started gathering together. It wasn’t a big group, no more than 10, but usually 8. People came from other churches too, some Catholic people came, so not necessarily our own church people, but people from outside and we gathered together and we shared our reflection, our understanding, and then many times I just we would talk about religions and race.
So in the beginning I talked a lot about context and how to think, how to interpret, how to look at this passage. So I did a lot of talking in the beginning, but latter years, around more than 10 years, the latter years, I didn’t even have to speak. I just raised one question. Their reflection came from all over the place. They were really reflecting on their lives. So scripture did not just exist by itself in isolation, the scripture and their life were engaged together, they kind of finally saw that scripture and it was very exciting because it was so engaging. So because the church is so isolated in the institutions, they didn’t reflect on life in general. They only talked about religious life, but now they really looked at life. So Catholics and Protestants gathered together, there was no difference. We are all aiming for a good life, a meaningful life, an abundant life.
They were able to share regardless of denomination, we were able to share our struggles, our problems, our joy of overcoming our problems and our joy, of finding your hope in life. Quite often we had those sacramental moments. All of us, there was no distinction between teacher and the student. We all became students of the word. We all heard of the word rather, there was no speaker. Sometimes there were emotional moments and also they were able to share their deep struggles too. So it wasn’t at all surface level, we were going down deep and nobody forced or coerced anyone to speak, we let the spirit guide us and lead us. So we had those moments.
How did this small group of women impact the congregation?
I mean, they’re 8-9 people but their impact on the whole congregation was so big that they started going to Teasdale and did a service for the food bank. They started doing services in different areas. It’s not just them who did the work, but they also encourage other people to join them. Once you really have these sacramental moments, you no longer have a bossy and unhealthy ownership of this high truth. You want to share, you become humble and you want to share, and you share the ministry with others.
How did the Bible Studies begin becoming a regular part of St. Timothy?
I mentioned that new people came and we invited them. I mean, a lot of these new younger generations, younger as in they were in their forties. So they came and we went to somebody’s house, and we did a Bible study, and then mostly younger generations of the KSM Korean speaking congregation. So we had a wonderful time together, great fellowship, but also we had a really, really good Bible study, but that’s a little bit different from Wednesday bible study. Korean people have less tendency to speak up, they like to listen rather than speak, but the process was the same. I was speaking, but also members shared their thoughts too. So we had a great Bible study. People in the congregation heard about how good Bible study was, so they wanted to also come.
You can only invite so many people, and at some point we had about 40 people at the Bible study and then beyond that, it wasn’t possible physically. So we decided to have it on Friday. We invited everybody, whoever wanted to come, it doesn’t matter the age- whoever wanted to come. So they started coming to a Friday Bible study and we had a wonderful time. Even the English speaking congregation members, they heard about it, and they wanted to do that kind of Bible study too. There are only so many days in a week. So I asked the KSM members since we have a Wednesday service, let’s give the ESM a bible study on Friday. It was a little bit more difficult because Wednesday service is more like a formal worship service. So the ESM started having Friday Bible study here on Friday, but they didn’t do it throughout the whole year. You know, the ESM congregation, they have only a certain amount of attention span, so they wanted to have a period that’s a seven week series or eight week series. So bible studies for ESM were very periodic, and it was like that for years.
Did you notice any changes in what people were experiencing?
They were reflecting on their lives, not just practical application of what to do. It’s about who I am. It’s not just about what I need to do as a Christian. It is more about who I am as a Christian, because what to do comes later. I mean, it just follows if you understand who you are at this point. Right? So that kind of focuses more on essential questions. Yeah. Essential, essential things like justice issues, women’s issues. Well, we don’t necessarily deal with issues, but what does the scripture say? You know, every person has a right, a basic right. The kind of idea that every person deserves to be treated with respect and you know, that applies to everyone. It doesn’t matter whether you are a religious person or not.
How did Tuesday Bible Study begin?
All of a sudden out of nowhere, you approached me Simon, you wanted to have a Bible study. I didn’t even have to ask you, and at that time, you didn’t go to church. I mean, you weren’t as devoted as you are today, you were born into church life and you grew up in the church all your life. But during that time you were kind of disillusioned about this institutional church, and that was exactly what I was struggling with too. A lot of second generation is disillusioned, like you, who left the church not because they don’t have faith, not because they don’t believe in God, not because they are not interested, but they were so disillusioned and a lot of them left the church. Like you said there are a group of people like that who want to have Bible study but not the kind of traditional Bible study, but they really want to say what the scripture says. So that’s how Tuesday Bible study started. Never a single time did I bring up your generation being disillusioned, I never told you guys how I felt about how institutionalized church has become, because I didn’t want to say that. In the end, they all came to church. A lot of them came to church and some people became elders, and you Simon, you became a minister.
And then, you know, those are fruits. This TBS group, when they started coming to church, they started rubbing off the whole Congress. At that time, the ESM congregation was kind of dwindling, you know, and then a fresh group came in and energized the ESM congregation. So at that time, the ESM congregation was quite encouraged by their presence. So these Bible studies, the effect is not to remain on that one person who receives the Bible study, and not because they want to affect others, but their existence becomes more of sharing in a way. It is affecting other people and because they themselves are happy and joyful, so that rubs off on them.
How did the Happiness Seminar begin?
I attended a lot of revival services and also I did a lot of revival services for other churches. At that time, instead of getting a speaker for our church, I really wanted to share my thoughts with them, but not just my random thoughts, but systematically I wanted to study and then share it. So revival service was more on an emotional level, but this happiness seminar is about letting us really look at our lives and the scripture again when we get together. So the first happiness seminar that I had was about being happy and how to be happy. That was the first thing that I did.
I basically looked at the book of Philippians, each and each chapter. That connected well with the life of happiness theme. So those two things I tried to connect and so that was the first happiness seminar. Then the response was great. I never did this kind of service for our own congregation but I wanted to do it, and it was fully packed. So I think we did this for maybe 10 years or something like that, but the response was great. We did a lot of reflections together, so that happiness seminar was a great success.
I used the same material for the English congregation, not in the format of a revival service or a service in the evening, but a retreat format. So we went to a retreat and then I did the same thing. They got really excited about that too. So yeah, it was a good experience. So somehow the spirit guided us to really reflect on our lives spiritually through the eyes of the scripture.
How was the congregation changing throughout this decade?
For the ESM congregation, the big thing was leadership and getting more of the members to become leaders of the community. For the KSM side, the big thing was looking for women leadership. Women have always been engaged in the ministry all their lives, but they were never given the opportunity to be the leaders of the church. That’s very unfortunate because I think men and women have different gifts, different styles and different strengths and different weaknesses, and that they should work together to build a church, but it has been predominantly male who ran the church. So I mean, the men, they were good, but they have their own way of leading the church. So some feminine parts were missing. I really wanted to see the women leaders come up. so the first time we got a woman elder elected in our congregation.
I was very happy. As soon as she came into the session, oh my goodness, the whole atmosphere changed so much. We became much more thorough, detailed minded, and then lots of good things I never thought of came up. She was taking care of the new members class. She established the new members class very well. So when new members came, we never ever lost anyone. It was like a fishing net, when you have a net and the fish, you catch a fish and usually there are holes in the net, but she mended all the holes. She did wonderful work for the church. I was very happy for the ESM congregation, until that time they were very dependent on their first-generations. The ESM had this mentality like “oh, this is our parents’ church, not my church. I go to my parents’ church” kind of attitude. They were used to their parents taking care of issues.
So the first-generation took care of a lot of things. The second generation, they attended the service and all that, but the sense of ownership was kind of weak. “What is leadership? What is Ownership? This is my church. I have to take care of it. If there’s garbage, I have to throw out that garbage. If there’s something to fix it, I have to fix it.” That’s how it should be, but they assume that somebody else will do it, not them. There’s things like mowing the lawn and all that stuff, but the mentality they have is someone else will do it. They just come to worship and then use it as a space. I want them to build and cultivate the leadership of the second generation. I really wanted to have second year elders. And a lot of people, as I told you before, a lot of people do not want to become elders. And finally we chose two elders to begin with. Then every year we got elders and now we have a bigger group then KSM. The KSM is only five or six and ESM has nine or ten. So after that, their ownership of the church changed quite radically.
Table of Contents
- Community of the Word: 25 Years of St. Timothy Presbyterian Church
- Life and Ministry of Rev. In Kee Kim
- Early Years and Ministry
- Formation and Early Years of Living Stone (1992-1996)
- Amalgamation and North York Living Stone (1996-2000)
- Becoming St. Timothy (2001)
- Growing Roots and Growth (2001-2010)
- Maturation into Spiritual Community (2010-2020)
- Pandemic and What Comes Next (2020-Beyond)
- Hermeneutics and Approach to Scripture
- How the Community Shaped Them: Stories from Members
- Reflections from Rev. Jane Yoon
- The Message of St. Timothy
- Life and Ministry of Rev. In Kee Kim