Same God, only different names: Minister welcomes cultural challenge

 — May 31, 200331 mai 2003

Rev. Seung Kim’s faith journey has been circuitous. It began in his homeland of Korea, and two years ago, brought him to Saskatoon, where he is pastor of Calvin-Goforth Presbyterian Church on Sommerfeld Avenue.

Kim was brought up in the Presbyterian church in Korea.

“My grandfather was a Presbyterian minister. He was the first Christian in our family. He went to a typical Asian school, or sutang (literally, a ‘house of books’), where he received the Korean style of education which included the Chinese classics. One day he met a missionary from North America. He was curious about this man with blond hair and blue eyes, and wanted to get to know him. Through the missionary, my grandfather became acquainted with Christianity.”

Seung Kim’s parents were North Koreans who moved to the south in 1945 just before the war started. There, they were invited by North American missionary friends to help establish an orphanage. Kim was born in 1950, and grew up with about 30 orphan children.

Seung Kim went to school in Korea, and later studied music at university, where he became a cellist. He attended a Presbyterian seminary in Seoul, was ordained for the ministry in 1977, and pastored a church in Seoul for six years.

“In 1983, my wife Insuk and I moved to Germany,” Kim says. “I thought it would be good for my ministry and my personal spirituality to be in the country of Martin Luther, where western Christianity, and especially the Reformation, was born.”

After studying theology at the University of Muenster for eight years, Kim received a call from a congregation in Barrie, Ont., in 1991. From there, he moved to Calgary, where he spent six years. Both churches were Korean Presbyterian congregations.

In 2000, he became pastor of Calvin-Goforth Presbyterian Church. “This is my first charge where the people speak English,” he says.

Kim, who learned to speak English in middle and high school in Korea, says language and culture are both challenges, but challenges he welcomes.

“I wanted to be the minister of an English-speaking congregation so I could learn more about Canadian Presbyterianism,” he says. “The longer I spend here, the more I see the differences in terms of roots, background and heritage, between me and people in Canada. It is this challenge and fascination that keeps me going on.”

One of big differences, he says, is in how different cultures address God. “Here, God is called ‘God’. In Korea, we call God Hanunim, which literally means ‘Heaven,’ or ‘Greatness.’ In German, God is ‘Gott.’ Hebrew, Latin, and Greek all have different names — names that sound and feel different to our ears. You can sense the nuance is different. Each sound touches me differently.

“The simple word ‘God’ can mean so many things. In this new setting, I feel I’ve become a baby again, learning new spiritual things in a new world, and at the same time, appreciating my own roots and differences which are very precious to me.”

Kim says, at Calvin-Goforth, he has gained an appreciation for the Scottish roots of Presbyterianism. “There are many people of Scottish ancestry in the church,” he says, “and they still appreciate the Scottish traditions. It was at a Burns Supper here that I first tasted haggis.”

Calvin-Goforth Presbyterian recently marked the anniversary of the amalgamation of Calvin Presbyterian Church (on Lorne Avenue) and Jonathan Goforth Presbyterian, which was established in the 1950s.

Today, about 60 families attend Calvin-Goforth. Seung Kim says being a relatively small church has its challenges, but he appreciates the small congregation.

“We are like a family where everyone knows each other,” he says. “I believe we care and experience things more intensely because we are small.”

Besides being its shepherd, Kim is also active in the music of church. “My wife and I sing in choir, and I sometimes play the cello. My ministry passion is worship and music. I think the two go together, and I always try to incorporate music in worship — sometimes traditional, sometimes contemporary, but always in a context people understand and feel comfortable with.”

Kim also sang in the German Concordia Folkslieder Choir when he first came to Saskatoon.

“For me, being the minister of this congregation is like having a window through which I can see so many things. I want to learn more about spiritual growth, and about living in peace with all people.”

Living in peace is the message of ecumenism, something that is near and dear to Seung Kim’s heart.

“I believe that peace between people and religions is very important — not just between Christian denominations, but between Christians and Islam, and Buddhism, and all other religions. If we speak about peace without reconciliation, peace can never take place. It can take place if clergy and lay people from different religious backgrounds can all talk together and become good friends.”

Kim is a strong supporter of the Prairie Centre for Ecumenism. His church is part of the Nutana Park Ecumenical Committee whose major activity is a Monday afternoon Bible study that sees an average 25 in attendance.

Posted: May 31, 2003 • Permanent link:
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