My faith journey is most well sung in this song brought by a young Nigerian friend from her home church to another home church in Chicago:
I love the family of God so closely,
so closely knitted into one,
they’ve taken me into their midst
and I’m so glad to be
a part of this great family.
For me, this is a “Presbyterian belief,” that everyone belongs to a family of God. I gained this trust and love in the radically inclusive family of God at my second home church in Chicago: Edgewater Presbyterian Church (EPC). EPC was small church of immigrants from Cameroon, Nigeria, India, Korea, and so forth. Our English accents were drastically different, but we hardly corrected our beautiful English. We often celebrated our mother tongues. Every Sunday, they would just accept who I am, singing “our song,” which is “what I hope Presbyterians would believe” – everyone belongs to this church. The first home church in Philadelphia taught me how PC(USA) has looked like so far – a “predominantly white” church. The second home church in Chicago showed me how PC(USA) will look like in the future – a community of diaspora people where everyone belongs.
How did I get there? Right now, it does fair justice to me if I introduce myself as a Korean diaspora theologian. However, my journey of soul searching and loving “who I am” has been slow and still on-going.
In some winter of the 1980s, I was baptized as an infant at a Presbyterian church in South Korea. There I grew up as a daughter of a Presbyterian church musician who later became an ordained Presbyterian minister in South Korea. Right after college, I came to the U.S. to study “Reformed theology” and “Presbyterianism” at first.
I gradually learned that a large portion of Presbyterian beliefs and our “Reformed confessions” stem from Western, European, Lutheran, Calvinist, and Barthian theological statements. When it comes to theological practice in the North American context, the beliefs needed cultural translation in depths and widths. American English could often fall short of translating the profound and extensive theology rooted in the rich culture of Western Europe. Moreover, neither Europe nor the U.S. owns the authentic Presbyterianism and a Reformed practice anymore. Both adopted changing context of their “reformed and reforming church” more rapidly than other Presbyterian churches in “Global South.” Moreover, the plight of refugees, BIPOC, and Asian and Latinx immigrants is brewing another theology “reformed and reforming” in the context of both Western Europe and North America.
In this changing context, I could not embrace any labels Americans granted me other than “Presbyterian.” None of those labels could accurately define where I belong – whichever color, racial-ethnicities, or nationalities. Even “Korean” would not translate correctly the words used for our communities – which is, han-kuk-in (Korean person) in han-kuk-mal (Korean speech). “Presbyterian” was one of the few labels I actively chose, as it embraced who I am – a nomad, a sojourner, an “international student” in a global Presbyterian community.
I somehow adopted my identity as an “international student” early on and still do. It is categorized by the U.S. immigration office: the first Americans I had met before I came to this country. Just like a duckling which would follow the first creature she gets to see, the first label I received was imprinted in my brain. I tried to enjoy my life in this country with a mindset of a guest, a spectator, and a consumer, if not an “oppressed” or “colonized.” However, I was de facto a nomad, not a tourist. Nomadic life is not easy, although I would not deny my privilege. I often felt “international students” were the target of discrimination in so many levels in this society.
Along the extensive journey, thankfully, the Presbyterian Church (USA) provided a home where I can stay who I am, in our Presbyterian theology and worship, our belief and practice, which made me speak in the multiple Presbyterian languages.
—So Jung Kim
Associate for Theology
Office of Theology and Worship
Presbyterian Church (USA)
So Jung is completing a PhD in Theology at the University of Chicago, Divinity School, in June, 2021. Shecurrently works and resides in the traditional lands of the Cherokee, Shawnee, Wazhazhe (Osage), and Haudenosaunee (Louisville, Kentucky, USA).