What was your relationship with Rev. Kim before attending Living Stone?
A bit of history there, which you know, the history continues obviously because Rev. Kim and I were still very good friends and he’s still my pastor and everything like that. But it goes back to the mid 80s. We had dinner with a few other people the other night. He actually said that he started at TKPC in 1985. So he kind of gave me a timeline there. In 1985 I was 16, right? So what happened was that my family and I had gone to another church, a larger church at that time. Unfortunately as a lot of Korean/immigrant churches back in the day, they went through conflicts and tensions and splits. So this church certainly went through that. So our family left just to get away from all that toxicity.
We ended up at TKPC. So in 1985, that’s when Rev. Kim came, but it was around then my family decided to go back because things had settled down. You know, my mom always firmly believed that a family should worship together, and that the family should go to church together. So she really did want me to come back to the other church with her, my brother, my sister and my dad. But because she had met Rev. Kim, he was a 전도사 (youth pastor) at the time. She really liked him, and she could tell I liked him as well. So she said, “Yeah, you know what, as long as Rev. Kim is going to be here, you can stay.”
So that was a big decision to allow me to stay. Otherwise I wouldn’t be in this situation. So I wouldn’t have met you or Rev. Kim and have that relationship over the last 36 years. So yeah, we go back a long way and it’s amazing. I’ve reflected on this quite a bit. Just the fact that it’s not your typical pastor/minister to church member kind of a relationship. Like sure, he is my pastor, my mentor, spiritual mentor and everything like that, but he’s a very unique friend to me, a very unique friend. So I’m very grateful to have him in my life and it’s been 36 years and I’m looking forward to the next 36 more or whatever we have together.
We’ve laughed a lot. We’ve played different sports together a lot, until our bodies couldn’t take it anymore. We certainly had our share of tears together, with my mom passing away and then his mom passing away. I remember distinctly – I remember his mom like I can see her face, I can see her face right in front of my eyes right now. Like she’s such a special individual. I know how much she loved not only Rev. Kim, but Edward and the other family members, but I also know how much she meant to Rev. Kim as well too. So that broke my heart to see her pass away. But yeah, we’ve had a lot, we’ve gone through a lot together and I’m very blessed to have him in my life for sure.
How did you begin your journey with Living Stone?
TKPC kind of went through their challenges and then I kind of went another way with my own path in life. So we, Rev. Kim and I, or 김인기 전도사님 (Pastor In Kee Kim) at the time, you know, we kind of diverged paths. We kind of went our own way for a little while. Then I was at a period in my early 20s, early to mid-20s where I was just kind of going to different churches, but I was going to completely different churches where I didn’t know anybody. Like local neighbourhood churches – I would just walk in and then just kind of worship together with that community. Then my mom heard about Living Stone, that it was going to start, and she heard about it because she knew a lot of the elders, kwonsanims, and the leaders that were thinking about starting Living Stone. What she was excited about was the fact that Rev. Kim was going to be called to be the head pastor. So she said, “Yeah, let’s go.” In fact, the very first day that he was there was the day that I met him again, after many years of going our own separate ways. And that was probably about 27-28 years ago, a few years before North York and Living Stone amalgamated. It was so, so good to see him again, and we just kind of picked up where we left off, which was really good.
What changes did you see in the congregation during the first decade of St. Timothy?
You know, the unfortunate thing is there’s, there’s been a lot of turnover. There’s been a lot of people who’ve come through the doors and walked out the doors. And you know, everyone has to find their own community, and that’s fine. But, what I found in the last many years is there’s more of a stability of the core of the community. Something’s been happening over the last many years where I’m finding that people are committing to the community. A good example is the fact that we’ve been stuck on Zoom for the last year and a half. I know that you were worried about whether people would come back, and people are coming back – slowly but surely they’re coming back – and it’s got to do with missing the community and also being committed to the community. I think that sense of commitment is perhaps qualitatively a little bit different than what we had before.
How did you become an Elder?
What happened was, the individuals who were deemed to be qualified to be nominated for Elders were people who had served on the Board of Managers (BOM) in the past. Rev. Chung had submitted the list of people who were on the BOM in the past, and my name was not on there. And you know Yunwoo (Yunwoo I love you), she remembered that sometime a long, long time ago I was on BOM. So she said to Rev. Chung,”You forgot John Chung.” So almost like a last minute addition, my name got added in there. That election process was serious. I could tell it was getting serious because the KSM Elders were there helping with the whole voting process and things like that. It had a serious air to it.
I remember I was sitting in the back, left pew in the choir, and then the voting took place. I wasn’t really thinking that I would be elected. And then when it happened, I can’t say that I was happy about it. I kind of looked down and I said, “Oh my goodness, what’s going on?” And then before I knew it, all these people came up to me offering congratulations. A couple of the guys were kind of mocking with their congratulations. I felt the pressure at that point and then I was like, “This can’t be happening.” I didn’t even think that it was going to happen in the first place.
Had you even thought about being an Elder before that day?
Not at all. I hadn’t thought about it at all. So I guess that’s the reason why it kind of caught me off guard. If I was somehow mentally prepared for it, I think it wouldn’t have been such a surprise. But I hadn’t thought about it at all. It happened.
My cousin who was an Elder in the KSM, he came up to me and gave me a hug and he could tell the trepidation in my face. He could see that anxiety in my face, so he gave me a hug, but he gave me an empathetic hug cause he’s served as an Elder before too. But I could tell he was proud of me, as my cousin.
Anyways, it happened and it stayed on my mind and my heart for days and at least a few weeks to come. Jisook had told me that she voted for me and I went, “How could you vote for me? How could you put me through this?” So we had some interesting conversations about that. Then what happened was I was trying to figure out how not to do it, to be quite honest. Because in my mind [being an Elder] is a heavy burden. First of all, it’s a six year term. Even the president of the United States gets only four years, man. Right? So this is a six year term and the title of the Elder is for life, cause it’s an ordained position as opposed to an elected position. So it’s a little bit different. So the title of the Elder is for life. So I felt like it was a heavy burden and quite honestly, I felt like spiritually, I wasn’t there to carry that title. So, I thought a lot about how to not do it. I set up a dinner with Rev. Kim and Rev. Chung and we talked about it and asked a ton of questions. It became clear, not that I would be forced to do it and that certainly wasn’t the case, but it’d be tough to say no because of the precedents that we would set. You know, to be the first Elders and for us to decline it, it’s not a good look. But at the same time, a couple of things – like I said Rev. Kim has been more than a friend to me over all these years and to disappoint him would be hard for me to do, very difficult for me to do, number one.
But at the end of the day, what really turned my mind around, turned my heart around about this was that I do care about this church. So I knew then, and I know now, how much I care about this community. So I kind of took the attitude of, “Hey, it’s only six years.” And I know that there’s an expectation of more terms and things like that, but in my mind, I was like, “I care about this church. I care about the community. What can I do? What can I do to step in and help?”
James was equally shocked. I know that because he and I spoke and we actually met at a coffee shop just down the road one day on a Saturday, and we were sitting there. I said, “What do we do? Now what do we do?” Cause there’s no roadmap, there’s no template, you know as far as our church was concerned. So we felt like we were pioneering something that we had no idea what we were really pioneering for. So we came up with all of these different ideas, and we kept on reminding ourselves that I think at the heart of the Eldership is to care about the members. You know, organizing this, organizing that, setting up this program, all that’s important and necessary. But at the heart of Eldership, and as part of not just Eldership, but at the heart of being a member of a community that you care about, is that you express that care. You express that love.
So that’s what I knew the Eldership was. However, it’s a very challenging thing to do because it requires a certain vulnerability to put yourself out there. It’s easier to work on programs, it’s harder to work on relationships. But I mean, that’s what I know without a doubt is a core role of an Elder – to express God’s love to the church members. So it was a bit of a journey getting to that decision to say yes, but I said yes, and six years went by pretty quickly! At the end of the day, it’s an honour. It really is an honour to be voted in like that and to be ordained as an Elder and to be able to serve the community in such a unique singular way – it is an honour for sure.
What are some memories and feelings you recall from the Ordination Day?
It’s funny. So James and I, we got dressed up in our suits. Can’t remember the last time I wore a suit to church on Sunday. And then, yeah, it was a big deal. A lot of people, a lot of non-church members came to commemorate that day. So we got up on the stage, Rev. Kim said a few words. He asked us a few questions. We said, “yes.” And then he ordained us and we got on our knees and he prayed for us. I think a lot of the ministers in the room and a lot of the Elders in the room came up laid their hands on us and prayed.
I made a joke afterwards. So there was a picture of me getting ordained. I was in the choir at the time so that picture got circulated. And I edited that picture with a bubble caption of me thinking, “Okay, how do I get out of this?” So I sent that around to everybody.
But yeah, I remember it as being a big day, a lot of congratulations. I see why it is that way – because it is an ordination, it’s not just a vote. It is an ordination – it’s meant to be taken in with that kind of seriousness. It is a calling. So I see why it is that way. But yeah, I remember it was a big day – a little bit of a heavy day given that all the attention was just on James and I, which we’re not used to, we weren’t people who wanted to go into ministry and expected that the ordination of being a Elder would happen at some point. So we didn’t expect it, but it was a good day overall. It was a good celebration.
Because I had made the decision to serve, out of the fact that I do care about the community, I was still a little bit anxious in my heart. But, you know, it was too late to back out. Too late, but it was all good.
Simon: I remember that day, Rev. Kim kind of got choked up.
Yeah he did. For Rev. Kim it was a combination of a dream come true or the beginning of a dream coming true. So for him it was a big thing. Among the Korean, churches, I believe we were the first, independently elected elders within the ESM. You know, you and I have talked about this – Rev. Kim is very wise in many ways, and we’ve seen it many ways, he’s wise beyond his years. There’s a lot of wisdom in that. If you think about our church, one of our pillars is a coexistence between the KSM and ESM. That’s unique and to have true coexistence, you need independent leadership. So there’s so many good things that we benefited from – from having that coexistence – and that we continue to benefit from. I think being and Elder or having our own elected Elders [for the ESM] is a clear way of saying that we’re stepping up or taking responsibility, with the blessing and the support of the KSM. So that was quite good. So I know why Rev. Kim was emotional that day.
How has being an Elder shaped you? How did you see the congregation grow during this time?
I think whenever you’re in a position where you’re serving others, you can’t help but grow. You can’t help but be challenged, you can’t help but expand your thinking, expand your capacity for caring. So that’s the way that I grew. Also one of the things that I appreciated, that Rev. Kim had all of us Elders do, was discipleship training. Again, with the view that we need to be disciples in order for us to actively care for the other church members. So those discussions that we had, I really enjoyed those discussions. It kind of continues to this day in terms of my own research and my own readings, and you know, the things that I enjoy reading. Nowadays, including the TBS materials that we’ve just finished reading. So yeah, that’s really helped to accelerate my journey into understanding what it means to love God and love others. Not only in thought, but trying to think about how that works in real life. So those six years of Eldership I would say was an integral part of that.
How has this church shaped you?
This church community is a significant part of who I am – in terms of the way that I live my life, in terms of the way that I go about my days. Quite often, I find myself looking at situations through the filter and the lens of my conversations in the past with Rev. Kim, but also what we stand for as a church. I go through my days with that kind of filter. I’m very proud of this church community. I’m very proud to be a member of this community and there’s no other church community that I feel like I could commit to. I feel like this [community] is an indelible part of who I am. And so [it’s been] 25 years since North York and Living Stone amalgamated. I think that’s a phenomenal history, and obviously the future looks increasingly bright as well too.
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