Welcoming Rev. Myung Hwa Park
The Rev. Myung Hwa Park is the 27th person to be elected Moderator of the Synod. At the upcoming Synod meeting in September 2014, Rev. Park will be installed as the Moderator, serving the Church until April 2017.
Born in Busan in South Korea, the Rev. Park was raised in a Buddhist family. She studied at the Ewha Women’s university in Seoul before taking on a role to teach hearing impaired children for two years. In 1984 she travelled to Pakistan as a Methodist missionary, where she ran a centre for handicapped children.
Rev. Park came to Australia to reflect on mission at Pacific Mission Institute before commencing her theological training at United Theological College in 1988. In December 1990 she was ordained as a Uniting Church minister.
Over the years, her global travels exposed her to many cultures. She’s worked among Muslims, Christians, Buddhists and Hindus, and is fluent in English, Korean, Tongan and Urdu.
Since November 2008. Rev. Park has been minister at St. Columba’s Uniting Church and Canberra City Uniting church. She also works as a chaplain at Australian National University (ANU) and University of Canberra (UC), and is a committed member of ‘Safe Shelter’ for Homeless men.
We sat down with Rev. Park and asked her about her vision for the Uniting Church, her thoughts on women in leadership, and what she’s excited about.
Q: What is your vision of the future of the Uniting Church?
Our Church’s DNA enables us to be open and faithful in ecumenical cooperation for the benefit of the future Church.
My vision for the Uniting Church is that we will facilitate and play a major role in shifting the concept of Christian witness in the 21st century across the denominations, not only within our own Church.
In order to shift the concept of Christian witness for the 21st century, we need to be prepared to let go of our old ways and habits and, embrace the changes that are taking place. If we consider our society and our world, this is not a new thing peculiar to our generation.
Things have changed a lot since Christ came to this world; since Constantine declared Christianity as the religion of the state; since Martin Luther emphasised the importance of God’s grace; since new Christian churches blossomed in the Far East; since women’s rights were honoured and the voice of the poor was heard.
We have come a long way to become a more equal, just and informed human race in the 21st century. However, traditional concepts of cultural, and racial superiority can still be barriers to achieving our vision.
I think the relevant issue for being a church in the 21st Century is social justice. It’s not just quoting the Gospel. The Gospel is about the voice of justice and also delivering the measure of peace, which is not in absence of the war or anything, but the peace of God.
I think the experiences and learning different ways of expressing our faith and deepening our faith is very important and we have to be a bit more inclusive and a bit more open.
It will be a great challenge to not only behold the vision of God, but to impart our vision to others if we are not of one mind, trusting, respecting and cherishing each other.
Q: What are you excited about?
Whenever I talk about Uniting Church I get so excited
I am excited about the possibility of change. Change involves moving and I am a person with a gypsy spirit!
I am excited to confront another set of challenges, to learn another language as I take on the role of being a voice of the Church.
I am excited about three of my older sisters coming from Korea to see me, their little sister. That I am loved, respected and in good form in my relationships with my Australian brothers and sisters in my new country.
I am excited about the privilege of taking on the role of Moderator, with the prospect of meeting people in different communities, right across the Synod. I see my role as Moderator as a go-between. An ambassador to people and Churches to witness the good stories, to celebrate the goodness of God in people and to challenge society with the conscious voice of Christ’s Church. I would like to engage as many people as possible in conversation about Christian witness and the celebration of God’s creation.
Q: Is there a reading in the bible that inspires you when it comes to being a good leader?
I believe a good leader is someone who has a sense of compassion and a passion for people. One who has a strong conviction that God loves the world and wants to reconcile with the whole creation.
Q: What social justice and environmental issues in Australia do you feel strongly about?
Justice for Australia’s first people, issues on refugee and asylum seekers, climate change, and many others!
We have many good people who have already spoken on these issues. I will be behind them and also in front of them to work on those issues. None of these social justice issues can be separated from our own wellbeing and our faith. I will try to make clear this connection which enables us to link our faith with appropriate actions and responses to these issues.
I think it’s very important for us to see Christian presence that’s relevant to society reflected in our Church. That includes our response to the First Peoples; to the discrimination that society still experiences; and gender discriminations. And I think importantly for Australia, dealing with the new people, including refugees, asylum seekers and migrants, within a multicultural dimension.
This will not always be easy, but not impossible. After all, we know that we are all connected with each other. Six points of connection, right?
Q: How do you see resources such as property being best utilised or more generally any commonly shared resources?
Church property has been always well used for its members and for a wide community. We are not short of ideas on ways of utilising our properties. We should focus on the Church, the people of God and how we worship, and how we serve the community as a way of witnessing to the mission of God. Then we can explore constructive and positive responses for our Church property.
Q: The theme of Synod is “Sustainability is in your hands.” What are your thoughts about this?
Sustainability is not about slogan, but a way of living. We are on-board together on this precious planet called Earth.
What I do, what you do affects me and you, and most importantly my children and your children and our future.
Q: How do you see the future role of youth in the Uniting Church?
Spirituality is not a piece of information or creed that we take for our faith statement. It is how we relate to our own spirit and the spirit of God.
For the past six years, I have worked with the young adults at City@Night in Canberra. I realised how different their life situations are to mine.
I envy young adults for their access to information, technologies, and approach to the world.
I also admire their claims for individuality, authenticity, freedom and enjoyment. All these are vital elements for their spirituality.
What we need to do for the youth in the Uniting Church is to pray for them and support them so that they can explore their faith, deepen their relationship with God and with people, and become spiritual leaders.
Jesus said, “You have not chosen me, but I have chosen you.” I am confident that there will be always people whom God will choose to bear fruit.
Q: What does the Uniting Church do well?
One of the good things about the Uniting Church is how well we share our leadership between lay and ordained. This is a strength of a non-hierarchical Church and because we do it well, it reinforces our decision to be non-hierarchical. Because everybody has a responsibility, we can all share the gifts and talents that we are given to work for the bigger and wider Churches.
I think also we have a very good ethos. We came together with differences and aspirations to enhance the gospel in this land. We’re not parochial; we have broad concerns. But we still have a way to go. We haven’t really learnt how to bring our concerns beyond our own boundaries.
We are also very strong on social justice. We make excellent policy statements. We actually participate in the issues, like rallies and protests for refugees and asylum seekers. This is very much a strength of the Uniting Church. We have a strong mind on social justice and we’re a peace maker.
Q: What are your thoughts on women in leadership?
There needs to be a balance or even numbers of women in leadership roles and in decision-making bodies across the Synod.
We need to ensure women are represented. Still, there are lots of areas where the gender balance is not very strong.
For me, the women’s issue is more for God’s kingdom. When God made men and women in the image and the likeness of God, together we are not able to see the fullness of God’s creation and the wonderful gifts that both can offer. How we can actually help each other embrace differences?
Even after 24 years as a minister I still feel that when I go to Synod or the Presbytery or Congregation meetings, we operate in very set ways.
Everybody has one way of thinking and we don’t give heed that there is a man’s way of thinking or woman’s way of thinking.
Often people say I’m quiet but I know that God has been very strong in bringing everybody to share God’s giftedness.
Q: Imagine you were at the end of your term as Moderator. What would you like to have achieved or changed?
I just hope that after three, short years, lots of people can see how marvellous it is that God is present among us and to see God’s mighty work. Whether that is something new, I really want to see that people can see it is okay; that we can do this now.
I would like to think that people say, “You have given us a huge confidence to tackle our challenges. We came along and we have actually moved, changed and are seeing something different”. I hope that God is always using us that way. We never know whether we can, but God allows us to do it.
I just want the Church to wake up to God’s mission; to be a bit more responsive to what’s happening around us and heeding the call to God’s mission.
As a 21-year-old receiving the call to leave my country for foreign mission, I went to Pakistan and I kept moving from place to place. But my main focus was always fixed — it is where God is calling.
I wish our Church would be really, really strong about that. We know that’s who we are. We are the pilgrim people journeying toward the Promised Land. But how we actually live that I think is the main focus of my ministry.
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