“Our first priority has been to do the things that a church must do,” said the Rev. Peter Kwon of the Temecula Valley Korean Presbyterian Church, a recent recipient of the 2011 Sam and Helen R. Walton Award. Each recipient church will receive $50,000.
The ‘things a church must do’ include a focus on mission and fellowship. In addition to gathering for worship in those beginning days, the congregation tried to gather as many times as possible during the week — sharing Christ’s love through Bible study, fellowship and prayer.
The Walton Award — endowed for $3 million in 1991 by the late Sam and Helen Walton and given to five congregations this year — is an annual award for new church developments that further Presbyterian mission in their communities.
Chartered by the Presbytery of Riverside (Southern California) in 2003, Temecula Valley Korean Presbyterian Church began as a small group of folks gathered to pray. Very early on, however, they combined their prayer with a sense of being called out into the world.
During 2003 Kwon taught as a volunteer at a Colombian seminary.
“The Holy Spirit touched me and I decided to help one of the members there who had a vision for starting a church with his wife and his parents in law,” he said.
When he returned to California he shared this story with the church’s session. “At that time we were weak in numbers and financing but we said ‘Why don’t we gather funds for his ministry without using the church budget?’” Kwon said. So they did, supporting this ministry for six and a half years.
But Colombia is a long way from California, and Kwon wanted his congregation to have an experience of mission that was a bit closer to home.
Thus began another partnership with a mission center in Tecate, Mexico. Every summer the church would send its young people to Tecate to host Vacation Bible School, sharing their experiences with the larger congregation upon their return.
In addition to sending his congregation out into the world, Kwon wanted to help them deepen their faith. In 2005 as he was reading Rick Warren’s “The Purpose Driven Life” the thought occurred to Kwon — why not do a 40-day campaign each Lent? Each year since they’ve taken the 40 days of Lent as a time for a particular church-wide focus. This year’s focus, “The QT Driven Life,” (for quiet time) included small group discussion as well as individual study.
“After we are done I hope that we are not just finishing a campaign, but that there is some fruit from it,” Kwon said.
What may be most amazing for those who are familiar with the Korean Presbyterian Church to learn is that the Temecula Valley Church has grown in spite of worshipping each Sunday at 12:30 p.m.
In Korea and in the United States, it’s traditional for worship in the Korean Presbyterian Church to be at 11 a.m. Early on, the church office would receive calls asking what time the worship services were. After hearing the answer of 12:30, folks would hang up and not visit the church that Sunday.
Temecula Valley does not yet have its own space — it is nested in Mountain View Community Church, another PC(USA) church building that also meets for worship on Sunday mornings. Though the worship time has been a challenge for the congregation, Kwon also believes that it has helped them focus on the health of the congregation, not just the logistics of a particular building.
The two congregations were also able to share worship and fellowship on Palm Sunday. Shared events can be challenging due to the language barrier — the older members of Temecula Valley tend to be mostly Korean-speaking. Kwon is trying to build bridges where he can.
He also sees the need for a bridge ministry within his own congregation — between the older members and the younger members, who tend to be mostly English-speakers.
“Even though the languages are different between the adults and the children the connectional ministry is still ongoing,” he said.
“I want every one of us to be a missionary in one way or another — that is my long-term vision for this church,” Kwon said.
And by missionary, Kwon means that he doesn’t want members to just send money or prayer — he wants them to go out into the world and then share those experiences back with the congregation.
That strong sense of mission, of being sent, of giving of oneself, Kwon hopes will permeate all of the church’s life together.
“Even though we have a terrible historical relationship, with the disaster in Japan our session decided to raise money that we sent to PDA for Japan relief,” Kwon said. Though he personally did not live through any of the colonization, the older generations within the church — the parents and grandparents, still have vivid memories of so many terrible things.
Kwon understands, but is once again firm — “The thing we have to do is not commanded by our government, but by God. By doing this we are showing God’s love.” Just another way of ‘doing the things that a church must do’ at the Temecula Valley Korean Presbyterian Church.
Erin Dunigan is a freelance writer, photographer, and pastor who lives in a small coastal community in Baja California, Mexico when she is not following her wanderlust out into the world.