ReNew congregation in California celebrates one-year anniversary with support from the Korean Ministry Plan

By Christie R. House
February 2020 | ATLANTA

ReNew.Checkin.1
Check-in for worship and children's worship, ReNew. Photo: Katrina Kim 
ReNew congregation in South Pasadena, California, is not a typical United Methodist community. South Pasadena is a diverse city of more than 26,000. About 42% are white, 30%, Asian and close to 20% are Latinex. The ReNew congregation reflects this diversity.

“Our church represents South Pasadena residents,” said the Rev. Sam Park, ReNew’s pastor. “The fastest growing segment is Asian Americans, and that’s also reflected in our congregation’s growth.”

This new church plant in the California-Pacific Conference celebrated its one-year anniversary in January. It has been partially funded through the Korean Ministry Plan (KMP), one of six national ethnic ministry plans of The United Methodist Church. Bishop Hee Soo Jung, of the Wisconsin Episcopal Area, serves as the president of the Korean Ministry Plan’s board of directors, as well as president of Global Ministries’ board of directors.

Increasing congregations and leaders for the church

The Rev. Paul (Hak-soon) Chang, executive director of the Korean Ministry Plan, said support for ReNew aligned with KMP’s Next Generation Ministries, which encompasses three strategic programs – Children’s Ministry Initiative, Youth Initiative and College Initiative. “The first generation served by the KMP is Korean-speaking immigrants who emigrated from Korea as adults. They prefer to worship in their native language. The next generations are 1.5, who came to the U.S. as children and teens and grew up attending U.S. schools, and second generation and beyond, those born in the United States, whose primary language is English.”

The Korean Ministry Plan has developed resources to augment its program focus, integrating Wesleyan tradition with Korean spirituality to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world. The focus is on discipleship through small-group ministry and training clergy and laity to start new congregations and charter new United Methodist churches. “Longing to Meet You,” a curriculum first published by the KMP in Korean, is now available in English. It guides pastors and congregations in small-group ministry. (Available through Amazon or Abington Press)

Since General Conference established the Korean Ministry Plan in 2000, the number of Korean-American clergy ordained in The United Methodist Church has increased by more than 1000. Many of those, like Park, serve cross-cultural, cross-racial appointments. About 25 to 30% of Korean clergy in the UMC are women serving cross-cultural, English-language appointments. “We contribute to the whole United Methodist Church,” noted Chang.
ReNew.Children Worship.sampleChildren's Worship at the ReNew UMC, Cal-Pac Conference, in South Pasadena, CA. ReNew is a new Church Start funded partially by Global Ministries' Korean Ministry Plan. The Rev. Sam Park is the pastor. Photo: Howard Min

Park sees this cross-cultural composition of English-language Korean churches as a natural progression in U.S. culture. He remarked: “From second generation ministries, we’ve learned that if a congregation speaks English, it will attract non-Koreans. Some in the wider culture just resonate with Korean-American spirituality and they come. I don’t know of a single Next Generation church that doesn’t draw in non-Korean members.”

Although Park was raised as a United Methodist in the Boston area, he moved to Los Angeles with Teach for America. He joined Young Nak Presbyterian Church of Los Angeles and was later ordained as Presbyterian clergy.

The Rev. Jonathan Lee, former chair of the Korean Methodist Caucus, drew him back to The United Methodist Church. Lee had moved to California from New Jersey to lead Glendale Korean UMC. Lee offered Park an opportunity to start an English-speaking second-generation congregation as an outreach of the Korean-speaking congregation.

Park explains: “We launched Community Church as a second-generation ministry to the Glendale Korean Ministry Church (UMC) in 1999. Within 3-4 years, our average attendance went from double digits to 250. At that time, it was one of largest United Methodist second-generation ministries in the U.S.”

A new congregation on a historic site

The genesis of ReNew developed after the former church on the site closed and the California-Pacific Conference considered options for the 8-acre property.

The three-story mansion on the land was built by original owners, hotel magnate, Albert Clay Billicke and his wife, Gladys Huff Billicke. In 1915, the couple took a fateful trip on the RMS Lusitania, which was torpedoed by a German submarine off the southern coast of Ireland. Billicke, who was on the cruise recovering from surgery, did not survive the blast, but Gladys escaped in a life boat. In 1960, Billicke heirs willed the property to the Methodist Church.

The Methodist congregation that moved onto the site built a sanctuary into the mansion and called it home until 2014, when dwindling membership led to its closure. Though the land is valuable, the mansion will take $2-3 million to restore. “It’s in need of a lot of repair,” Park admitted, a considerable burden for a new congregation.

The land, though, may be developed to serve the community, and a good development plan could produce income.

Park’s current focus is to build up the congregation. He has ambitious plans to charter ReNew as a United Methodist church by 2021. Park and 16 Community Church members formed the core membership in January 2019.

In addition to Sunday worship, ReNew hosts small group gatherings on Thursday nights and Sunday afternoons, allowing the congregation’s members to develop deeper relationships. A fathers’ ministry meets virtually, from 10-11 p.m., after their children are in bed.

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“When our 11 a.m. Sunday worship hits 90+ in attendance (it currently averages 55 adults and 10 children), we will launch a Thursday evening worship service,” Park said. He hopes to reach families whose children’s sports competitions and practice times are 11 a.m., Sunday mornings. Across the country, 25 million children are involved in weekend sports – and with them, their whole families.

“This is a huge segment of the population,” Park noted. “We hope to provide a full Sunday worship experience on Thursday nights, including children’s and youth ministries. As a church, we can’t complain, we must minister within the realities of our community. This could be one of the fastest growing ministries in the church. We’re going to do Sunday on Thursday and see how it goes.”

But without the new ministry grant from the California-Pacific Conference and additional support from the Korean Ministry Plan, ReNew would have found it difficult to get off the ground. Now they have a good foundation and have raised more than $180,000 for this year’s budget, $30,000 more than projected. With a long-term plan for the property, his transfer of ordination credentials to The United Methodist Church underway and a distinct plan for growth, Park sees a bright future for ReNew.

For more information
ReNew has created a video about their congregation, available on youtube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YpoWLNU9MzU

For more information on the Korean Ministry Plan, contact Paul Chang or Erin Kim: Tel. 404-460-7936, pchang@umcmission.org, ekim@umcmission.org.

Christie R. House is a writer and editor consultant with Global Ministries.
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