Korean CREDO provides safe space for sharing, promotes mutual support

Participants and faculty of the first CREDO conference for PC(USA) Korean pastors

“Truly eye-opening” is how the Reverend Dr. Yushin Lee describes the first CREDO conference for Korean pastors, sponsored by The Board of Pensions of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) in 2023. Dr. Lee, active for 20 years with the National Caucus of Korean Presbyterian Churches, said Korean conferences are usually “one-way” — successful pastors speak; audience members listen. But CREDO is designed to be relational, and it was “life-changing” for the 20 pastors who took part in the weeklong conference, he said.

Dr. Lee, professor emeritus at the University of California, Davis, was the conference leader. He watched with delight as pastors shared their emotions and the struggles they face in their calls. “We do not really talk from our heart,” he said of Koreans. Yet, six months later, the CREDO participants are caring for each other through social media and even in person. “They’re really sharing their experiences, especially personal things,” Dr. Lee said.

“They shared their concerns and pain and joy with each other,” said participant Reverend Dr. Miriam Koo, the organizing pastor for Pastoral Care Mission Community Church, in New Hyde Park, New York. “It was a healing experience.”

“Most Korean pastors do not have even a week of vacation,” said the Reverend Je M. Lee, pastor of First Presbyterian Church in Lebanon, Indiana. “Some of them haven’t had a vacation for the last 10 or more years. So, this resting moment was very precious.”

The Board has long offered CREDO conferences to ministers of the Word and Sacrament based on their phase of ministry: recently ordained, mid-career, and late career. CREDO is rooted in the Board’s A Theology of Benefits, which holds that God desires life abundant for each of us. The conferences provide ministers the space and time to cultivate spiritual, vocational, health, and financial well-being.

Many teams internal to the Board come together to ensure a rich experience during CREDO conferences. Each conference is led by outside faculty, who are chosen for their expertise in a particular area of wholeness. Each faculty member attends a development conference before leading a CREDO conference.

Several years ago, the Board recognized inequities in its programs that made it difficult for some constituencies to participate. In 2019, the Board partnered with Johnson C. Smith Theological Seminary to host an African American conference. Korean CREDO further reflects the Board’s commitment to providing conference experiences that speak to the lived realities of the plan members attending them.

“CREDO addresses all the aspects of wholeness in a setting where relationships can develop and mutual support happens,” said the Reverend Lori Neff LaRue, the Board’s Vice President, Education. “It is such a restorative experience. We want more pastors to have the opportunity to take part.” She said the Board continues to broaden awareness of CREDO and of its education programs in general.

“I’ve been championing it,” said the Reverend Luke Choi, a Church Consultant for the Board who serves churches in Korean-language presbyteries. “It’s a safe space for sharing. You’re among ministers.”

Rev. Choi, who recruited the faculty for the Korean-language conference, said small cultural-related adjustments were made in the CREDO program, particularly around worship. “Koreans are very spiritual,” he said. “Worship is very critical, and it is passionate, with lots of music and praise songs. We had a full band going.”

The conference took place at Ferncliff Camp and Conference Center, just outside Little Rock, Arkansas. The Board brought in Korean snacks, including kimchi. Some of the pastors live several hours away from a Korean grocery, so the snacks, like the worship, warmed them, helping them to feel at home and comfortable.

The 20 ministers at the conference represented 15 states and 14 different seminaries, and six of them serve non-Korean congregations, including in small towns, said Dr. Lee, the conference leader. Most of them are in their 40s or 50s.

Both Dr. Lee and Dr. Koo, two of the older participants, marveled at the younger pastors. Dr. Lee, involved with the PC(USA) Korean caucus for decades, was surprised that he had never seen them at caucus conferences. And Dr. Koo, who has been concerned about the future of the Church, was relieved to see “young leaders so eager to serve God and people. It was assurance given by God for the future, and hope.”

Rev. Lee of First Presbyterian in Lebanon, Indiana, said the conference broadened the ministry network of the younger pastors. “I only knew two or three Korean pastors before, so it was very nice to get to know some of the Korean pastors,” said Rev. Lee, who has only pastored non-Korean congregations.

Dr. Lee and Dr. Koo said the younger pastors, many of whom emigrated at young ages and were educated in American seminaries, need the mutual support they found at the CREDO conference, adapted for their unique circumstances. “They are in between two cultures,” Dr. Lee said. And moving back and forth, from one culture to the other, “can put people in an unstable state,” Dr. Koo said.

Rev. Choi himself is a member of this younger generation of Korean ministers who knows well the challenge of moving between cultures. “This CREDO really worked,” he said.