Pastor’s Corner – September 10, 2023

This past week in my Facebook feed I came across an article written by a pastor of First Presbyterian Church of Arlington Heights, Illinois, as to why he was leaving the church. He preached his last sermon two weeks ago. (Departure: Why I Left the Church (restorative  While I can relate with some of the stresses he cites for his leaving, the more I thought about it, the more the article really annoyed me, because there are so many different takes on it. Jubilee – by Molly Baskette – Doomsday Dance Party! (   

So, I decided to respond with a few of my thoughts. It’s been almost thirty years since my ordination, (that should have been thirty-one years. The delay in my ordination was due to church politics at the time though I was fully ready.). I just learned from a statistical point of view that 20% of ministers are struggling with depression and 85% of seminary graduates entering the ministry will leave within five years. According to the findings by the Alban Institute, 90% of ministers don’t make it past the 20-year mark! 

Wow, I took for granted that I’m that 10% of ministers who are still out there serving! This doesn’t mean it never came across my mind to throw in the towel. However, the rewards and the joys of ministry and the meaning one finds outweigh all the disappointments and trappings of ministry. To be sure, it wasn’t easy, especially as a Korean American pastor serving predominantly white congregations, or PCUSA in general. I believe women of color and other minority groups face greater challenges that are not spelled out by a privileged white pastor from Arlington Heights. After graduating from seminary, it took me almost seven years before I was able to secure a permanent call at Palisades Presbyterian Church! Graduating top of the class in preaching didn’t help either! 

I’m not complaining; I knew what I was getting into. Growing up as a pastor’s kid I witnessed first-hand what my father was going through as a pastor. I remember Dad late one evening coming home from a session meeting in tears, yet not once did he speak ill of the session members but felt greater need to pray. The politics and dramas of power struggles were real and more intensified in immigrant churches where the stakes were high (there are very few places where immigrants feel they belong). I remember an incident in which a Korean pastor shot and killed one of his elders who was tormenting him and made a huge headline in the Korean American community! I know this is very extreme and violent. I am not suggesting that our church or other non-immigrant churches have the same intensity, but one thing I learned is that ministry is really hard, but the litany of reasons for leaving the church don’t vibe with me. You can leave for whatever reasons but it shouldn’t be emblematic, and a white male Presbyterian pastor from an affluent suburb of Chicago doesn’t represent my experience! 

At my ordination my father gave charge to me with these words I will never forget, “Ministry is done not with your head but with your knees. On your knees in prayer!” I knew he was suggesting that it wasn’t going to be easy and the road ahead was going to be full of disappointment, and most of all dealing with all kinds of people at so many levels can take a toll and wear you down. But his charge reminded me that God was going to be part of this journey where you can experience healing and powerful experiences that touch lives, people opening themselves up in their most vulnerable places in their lives. Yes, among all other workplaces, church is a place where ultimate values are shared, where people can feel vulnerable and can regress and behave in ways they would not otherwise at work or public places. And that’s okay because the church is trying to be a safe place for healing and meaning. It’s not perfect. It’s an intimate place with all the family dynamics that can be dysfunctional and yet it is also a place of strong support hard to find anywhere else. 

When I look back, over the years, there was a time when I was broken and hurt by congregations I served or by the governing body that was supposed to be the pastor to me. I was singled out as a problem when I looked around and no other white clergy members were called out when members of their church complained to the Presbytery. And there was a time when I took a leave of absence for three years, tired of dealing with constant racist microaggressions, intentional or unintentional or even well meaning, and feeling alone and isolated, a factor I had to deal with even in progressive congregations!  So, I took time off to recover and reflect on my calling. 

I’m back now, after a short interim ministry and I know it’s not going to be easy, but for me, I can’t imagine doing anything else. It’s my first love. I’m one of the few who went to seminary right after college, not as a second career student (not that second career pastors are any less valid). Hopefully I will retire at 70 and I will have forty-five years of pastoral experience! Unfortunately, we see less and less of that 10% who go beyond twenty years. It’s sad because I think you gain something over that length of years in ministry, that something like an old wine or long years of fermented kimchi with deep flavors! I know this flavor because I was blessed with dad’s long years of pastoral ministry!

In the end, wherever we are, wherever we decide to go or return, God’s blessing is everywhere. Let’s just be open to God’s blessing and remember to be kind to each other. See y’all Sunday morning!  Amen. 

Pastor Dae