By: Lauren Lee and Elisabeth Jong
Learn about the past, present and future of the KSM congregation at St. Tim’s. Read to the end to see Lauren and Elisabeth’s personal reflections.
Stories of Faith was the theme of our 2019 ESM Summer Retreat.
Snapshot of the faith stories of ESM members
The story of one’s faith is a journey unique to each individual and this week we have the tremendous privilege of sharing a few narratives from our very own ESM congregation with you.
The stories explored in this post are those of Elder Dr. James Choe, Maeng Hong from the Women’s Bible Study Group, and Stephanie Choe from the Tuesday Bible Study Group.
James Choe’s Story
Christianity itself was new to James’ family and was first introduced to him when his older brother started to attend church. James would accompany him when he was in middle school and high school although his faith itself wasn’t very important at the time as the whole rational for Christianity and the meaning behind it was still a challenging thing to fully comprehend. Despite this, the church still provided an opportunity for James and his brother to connect with Korean-speaking friends that had similar life experiences in an environment where there weren’t many Korean families.
For the duration of his time at university and medical school, James’ training grew to be increasingly rigorous which led to him attending church less frequently. It wasn’t until he started dating his current wife that he started to go to church more frequently, as this was one of her conditions to ensure that she married a Christian.
At the time, they both joined North York Presbyterian Church which unfortunately didn’t have a very strong ESM or KSM service for people their age. Their church made the decision to combine with the Living Stone Church led by Rev. In Kee Kim. The newly formed North York Living Stone Church (later renamed St. Timothy Presbyterian Church) brought its more vibrant ESM culture, helping to further initiate James’ faith journey. It continued to flourish after deciding to join the EM choir along with his wife and becoming one of the first Elders.
Becoming an Elder
James was one of the first two Elders elected in 2012 and served his full term of 6 years. As an Elder, James had many responsibilities including lots of planning, discussions, and meetings to ensure all details of church management is done, and also confirming that their visions are aligned with each other to plan for the future of not just the following year, but the next 5, 10 years.
Looking back, it was clear that becoming an Elder was a very pivotal moment in James’ faith as, in addition to all of these responsibilities, there were many sessions of bible studies, spiritual learning and growth and sharing over the years.
James expressed his gratitude for the experience to being one of the first Elders as it helped him in so many aspects from the extent to which his faith grew, to the newly found understanding of what goes on in the church and helping to plan rather than simply attending worship. Even paving the way for other Elders to join in subsequent years was a privilege as it was a truly historic and necessary step for our St. Timothy Church.
Maeng Hong’s Story
Maeng Hong came to Montreal at the age of 6 after living in Korea. At the time, there was unfortunately a lack of a Korean community for Maeng and her family in Montreal. However, being one of five other girls, Maeng Hong found that her childhood was a fairly normal, happy, Christian childhood.
Even from a young age, Maeng had always been a spiritual person, but felt she lacked an organized faith. Despite this, she attended church since she was young and although she took a break, she came back for her two sons so that they would have a community to turn to and be a part of.
Although there were many joys of childhood growing up, she hit a stage in her teenage years that was packed with uncertainty and questioning which took a long time to get through. Despite a few hardships along the way, Maeng made the commitment to get baptized a few years ago and admits that it truly feels like she was born again.
Currently, things have started to calm down a bit for Maeng as she continued to grow more secure in her faith. Maeng shared her knowledge of the fact that she knows her faith remains despite consistently being shaken because of her definition of what Christianity is versus other religions. She knows this because even when her faith wavers, she always finds her way back; her faith is always there even if it is underlying.
Joining Women’s Bible Study
For about 10 years, Maeng has been attending the Women’s Bible Study, which is led by Rev. Kim every Wednesday. This was a place where there is a lot of space for reflection and open talks that you generally don’t find in addition to a lot of love, which is one of the reasons she keeps coming back. This is a very comforting place that Maeng truly feels God’s presence in as people come with the common desire to understand and help one another.
The Bible Study is also not solely focussed around the Bible, as Maeng shared, but about their lives. And this is what the Bible could be about too; lives. People falling and then struggling to get up, to persevere and continue. The ability to do this could be derived from this power which helps us all to continue moving.
Stephanie Cho’s Story
Stephanie Cho is one of our congregation members who grew up in Canada in a very Westernized culture. She was born in Canada, as her parents immigrated when they were very young. There were some aspects of the way she was raised that were very traditional to the Korean culture, but more or less, her family lived their lives as Canadians with heavy influence on Canadian culture. Growing up alongside two older brothers, and being the only girl, was difficult at times. She would look up to them, and subsequently followed what they did.
Stephanie’s faith journey started at a young age. She grew up at Bethel Church until she was about 8 years old, and her parents decided to leave the church. For a few years, the family took time away from the church, and not long after, they found North York Livingstone Church (former St. Tims) and began to attend. They had various programs for elementary, Hi-C, ESM and KSM groups. In all, it seemed to suit the needs of the family of 5, both together and individually.
She spent her younger years growing up in the church, and being part of the Praise Team has been an integral part of her life. Not only did it secure her continual attendance to church, but it also peaked her interest in learning more about God through the power that only music can generally provide. As serious and stoic that she may seem on the stage, her internal emotions are exhilarating as no words can fully encapture how it feels when their team gives all their energy and emotions to the congregation just as they are reciprocated right back.
“What is your faith story” is a question that Stephanie really struggled with as it felt like she never really had a faith story. Especially when comparing herself to people who had faith stories that were slightly more apparent than hers, it made her question if she has faith in the first place.
This is a difficult question to answer in general as it is simple to understand the textbook definition of what faith should be, but it isn’t as well defined in practice as it varies from one individual to another. However, despite consistent questioning around her belief in God during times of trouble, Stephanie recently started to truly believe that God has a plan for her. This leads to her to reflect on what she can do to try and strengthen her faith which is where Tuesday Bible Study played a large role in helping her realize that maybe that’s what her faith story is.
Joining Tuesday Bible Study
Commonly referred to as “TBS,” Tuesday Bible Study is a group that came together a few years ago when Pastor Simon and a couple of other Young Adult congregation members took the initiative to approach Rev. Kim to start a new Bible Study group that met every Tuesday. This bible study group is open to a wide variety of people ranging from younger to older ages and everybody from different walks of faith. From people who identify Christians to those who don’t, and those who attend church on a regular basis to others who consider Tuesday Bible Study to be their own kind of church. Regardless of who they are, everyone is welcome to this very open, safe, non-judgmental space.
The first session that Stephanie joined was in the Fall of 2017 after Pastor Simon reached out to her. At the time, there wasn’t a very apparent YA (Young Adults) program at St. Tim’s mainly due to the fact that most of the students were going away to university. Pastor Simon suggested to Stephanie that attending the Tuesday Bible Study would be a good way to have a weekly time devoted to critically study the Bible. This helped to persuade her to try it out and now she has been attending ever since.
Here she was given the opportunity to critically think and discuss the Bible with others while also having the chance to share reflections of what they’ve studied and how it relates and impacts their lives. This was even more meaningful as it opened up the opportunity for them to listen to their peers and hear out their different perspectives as well.
As Stephanie reflected, she recognized the huge role that TBS had played in her life. Though she can’t say that everything they’ve learned has been retained to this day, TBS has truly made an impact on developing her idea of faith through the reflections developed and shared amongst everyone which in turn translates to this day. Although her personal conception of faith may still be unsure, through listening to the journeys of old and new friends really helped to put her spiritual life into perspective. That way, her everyday life and spiritual life don’t remain as separate entities, but become one.
St. Timothy Presbyterian Church
When looking through the various stories within our very own St. Timothy community, it was evident to see how our church has played a role in each of their journeys of faith through the programs held and the people in our congregation. When asked to describe our St. Timothy church in a word or sentence, this is what our people had to say.
“Looking back and raising two kids in the church setting too, it feels like St. Tims is a faith community and extension of an extended family for us.” – James Choe
“Forgiveness. There’s so many words to describe it, but the thing that is the most welcoming, inviting, inclusive is forgiveness.” – Maeng Hong
“Awesome community and supportive Pastoral Staff.” – Stephanie Choe
What does it mean to Bless the Lord?
One possible way to interpret what it means to Bless the Lord for the people of St. Tims is through the constant presence of God through the church. Throughout their years here at this church they have participated in various activities held by the church and through these times, their faith grew and they found ways of incorporating God into their lives outside of Sunday worship and bringing their lives to God.
“I think God is there. Now that I think about it, that article that I wrote, where I feel like I don’t recognize that feeling. Now that I’m talking about it, yeah. God is there because there is a common desire amongst us to understand each other, help each other and so it’s focused around the Bible…” – Maeng Hong
How does this affect the way we think about faith?
I think for me personally, it has really put into perspective what faith really is. It’s not this one, concrete thing that exists, but is something more fluid and constant that stays with us throughout our lives. Sometimes it’s difficult to see God in the moment, but when looking back at our lives we can truly see God’s presence as our faith continues to cultivate in God’s everlasting presence in our lives.
– Elisabeth Jong
Interviewing members of our community has made me realize how different everyone’s faith journey is. There are so many ups and downs, yet when we reflect in retrospect, I think we can see how God was there for us throughout it all. I’m able to think critically about my own faith and talk to people in the community about it because I feel like we all see each other as family and have the desire to be part of each other’s faith journeys.
– Lauren Lee
Stories of Faith was the theme of our 2019 ESM Summer Retreat.