PC(USA) mourns loss of former Moderator and ecumenical leader

January 14, 2015

The Reverend Syngman Rhee, a Presbyterian minister, seminary professor, and respected leader in the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) and wider faith community, died January 14 in Atlanta shortly after being diagnosed with an aggressive form of cancer. He was 83.

Elected in 2000 as Moderator of the PC(USA) General Assembly, Rhee was the first Asian American to serve in that position. He also served as president of the National Council of Churches from 1992 to 1993.

“Syngman was a tireless disciple of Jesus Christ,” said the Reverend Gradye Parsons, Stated Clerk of the PC(USA) General Assembly. “He traveled from the hopeless landscape of the Korean War to become a global leader in missions. He was a giant of faith with a humble spirit.”

Rhee was born March 25, 1931, in Pyongyang, Korea, where his father was a Presbyterian minister. When the Korean War broke out in 1950, he and his younger brother joined the flood of refugees fleeing south. They left behind their parents and four sisters.

Rhee lost contact with his family for twenty-eight years, until a friend of the family arranged for him to meet with his sisters in North Korea in 1978. He learned that his mother had died eight years earlier and that his father had been arrested by the Communist regime and died in prison.

The painful experiences of war and separation from family motivated Rhee’s lifelong quest for peace and reconciliation, particularly between North and South Korea.

After emigrating to the United States, Rhee attended Davis and Elkins College in Elkins, West Virginia, graduating with a BA degree in 1957. He graduated from Louisville Presbyterian Theological Seminary in 1960 and he and his wife, Haesun, married in July of that year. Rhee received an S.T.M. from Yale Divinity School in 1965.

Syngman Rhee in 1970

Rhee began his career serving as pastor of two small congregations in Louisville. As a campus minister at the University of Louisville in the early 1960s, he participated in the Civil Rights Movement with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

Rhee served for twenty-five years on the national staff of the United Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A. (the northern Presbyterian church prior to reunion in 1983) and the PC(USA). He coordinated mission work in the Middle East and East Asia and then became associate director for the PC(USA)’s Worldwide Ministries Division.

“Syngman Rhee is one of my dearest friends,” said the Reverend Clifton Kirkpatrick, former Stated Clerk of the PC(USA). “He is one of the great saints of the church and has served the church well.”

“I give thanks for all he has meant,” he said.

In 1998, Rhee was appointed Visiting Professor of Mission and Evangelism and director of the Asian American ministry and Mission Center at Union Presbyterian Seminary in Richmond, Virginia. He retired in 2013 and the following year was invited to become Distinguished Visiting Professor in the Practice of Global Leadership Development at Columbia Theological Seminary.

Shortly after Rhee was hospitalized in Atlanta, the family posted the following: “Even in the midst of this situation, every day, Syngman expresses deep gratitude for his life in the church, in ministry, and in the world, and for his many relationships and experiences in ministry over the course of his entire life. They are very much on his mind and in his heart. He feels a sense of unfinished business but he knows that there are many who will continue on as God’s church in the world for justice, peace, and reconciliation.”

Rhee is survived by his wife, Haesun, and his children, Anna, Peter, and Mina.

For information on arrangements, please go to http://syngmanrhee.webs.com/

미국 장로교가 전 미국 장로교 총회장 및 에큐메니칼 리더의 죽음을 애도하다.

La IP(EE. UU.) lamenta la pérdida del ex Moderador y líder ecuménico.


 
Messages of condolences:

 

  1. In 2000 I was Moderator of Sacramento Presbytery. To celebrate the 150th anniversary of our oldest church at Morysville, I invited Dr. Rhee to be the speaker on the November meeting. It was a great celebration and Moderator Rhee was so humble.

    by Dr.Richard Wylie

    January 18, 2015

  2. When I was Moderator of Sacramento Presbytery in 2000 I invited Moderator Syngmann Rhee to be our speaker at the November meeting which was held in the historic Marysville Church on their 150 anniversary. What a special event and such a humble man.

    by Dr.Richard Wylie

    January 18, 2015

  3. both my husband, tim, and i are very appreciative of dr. lee's significant and influential contribution to the global church as well as churches in korea and america. our thoughts and prayers are with mrs. lee and her family. we pray that God will grant them peace and comfort in this very difficult time of transition. shalom, angella & timothy

    by angella & timothy son

    January 17, 2015

  4. both my husband, timoth, and i appreciate the significant and influential work that dr. lee has done for the global churches as well as churches in korea and america. we are deeply saddened by his passing. our thoughts and prayers go out to his wife and family. we pray for God's comfort and peace for the family. shalom, angella & timothy son

    by angella and timothy son

    January 17, 2015

  5. Syngman, thank you for all that you have done for the PCUSA. Your worldwide focus has meant a great deal to us. You have gone but you are still in our hearts as move ahead without you. Thank you again for your deep friendship.

    by Bryce Little

    January 16, 2015

  6. Rev. Syngmann Rhee was a great leader and a humble servant of God. He will be greatly missed. Our prayers go out the his family and friend; May God bless and keep you all.

    by Samuel Park

    January 16, 2015

  7. I was deeply touched when I read a book authored by Reverend Syngman Rhee. Living through treacherous times including the Korean War, he showed us what true courage is. While I feel sorrow for his departure from Earth, I feel blessed at the same time knowing Rev. Rhee's eternal life with God in Heaven.

    by Dokyoung Yoon

    January 16, 2015

  8. I met Rev Rhee only one time at a conference in DC. Because of my life work with Japan, he immediately took me under his wing, accepted me and asked me all kinds of profound things. I will never forget his calm, generous spirit. wish I could have known this great man of peace better. I wish the world could have known him better.

    by Jennifer Swanson

    January 16, 2015

  9. 형님! 이제 이 땅에서는 다시 볼 수 없게 되었다는 사실이 아렇게도 마음이 아픔니다. 형님의 부음을 받자 갑작스럽게 찾아든 외로움과 허전함이 저의 가슴을 몹시 우울하게 만듭니다. 병석에 계실 때 찾아가 석별의 정담 한마디 나누지 못한 이 아우는 죄스러운 마음으로 형님의 영정을 쳐다보고 있습니다. 이렇게 쉬이 가실줄은 전혀 예상을 못했습니다. 이렇게 훌쩍 떠나시다니 참으로 당황스럽습니다. 손목한번 붙잡아 보지 못한체 형님을 잃어버린 이 아우의 눈에는 눈물이 늘 고입니다. 형님! 하나님의 품에 안겨계시면서 형님이 그토록 희구하시던 남북통일을 비롯하여 숱한 사연들이 이 땅에서 이룩되도록 간구해주세요. 우리는 형님의 '화해꾼'의 모습을 늘 새기고 살아갈께요. 형님! 사랑해요. 많이 많이 사랑해요.

    by 정장복 ChangBok Chung

    January 15, 2015

  10. 형님! 언제나 인자하시고 따뜻하셨던 형님이 소천받으셨다는 소식을 접하였습니다. 40년간 언제나 변함없이 사랑해주시었던 형님의 사랑이 이제 이 땅에서는 다시 볼 수 없게 되었다는 사실이 아렇게도 마음이 아픔니다.형님의 부음을 받자 갑작스럽게 찾아든 외로움과 허전함이 저의 가슴을 몹시 우울하게 만듭니다. 병석에 계실 때 찾아가 석별의 정담 한마디 나누지 못한 이 아우는 죄스러운 마음으로 형님의 영정을 쳐다보고 있습니다. 역시 형님은 최후의 순간까지도 그렇게 본이되는 모습을 보여 주셨군요. 가족을 비롯한 모든 사람들에게 부담을 주지 않고 작별의 인사를 나누고 떠나셨군요. 역시 형님은 큰 어른의 본이 되는 모습을 최후까지 보여주시었습니다. 형님이 제게 배풀어 주신 사랑을 이루 다 헤아릴 수 없습니다. 얼마전 형님이 형수님과 함께 수만리 길을 찾아 오시어 이 아우의 은퇴식전에서 격려의 말씀을 해주실 때에는 저의 가슴에 형님의 깊고 넓은 사랑에 깊은 감동을 안겨 주시었습니다. 어찌 그뿐이겠습니까? 이렇게 쉬이 가실줄은 전혀 예상을 못했습니다. 이렇게 훌쩍 떠나시다니 참으로 당황스럽습니다. 손목한번 붙잡아 보지 못한체 형님을 잃어버린 이 아우의 눈에는 눈물이 늘 고입니다. 형님! 하나님의 품에 안겨계시면서 형님이 그토록 희구하시던 남북통일을 비롯하여 숱한 사연들이 이 땅에서 이룩되도록 간구해주세요. 우리는 형님의 '화해꾼'의 모습을 늘 새기고 살아갈께요. 형님! 사랑해요. 많이 많이 사랑해요. 주후 2015년 1월 15일

    by 정장복 ChangBok Chung

    January 15, 2015

  11. Rev. Rhee and Mrs. Rhee: My wife and I thank God let us meet you and know you even it was brief while we were living in Louisville. We are sad to know the great man of servant to the Lord is not with us here. But, I know he is with us always. Sun Sook and Charles Kim, Woodbridge, Connecticut.

    by Charles C. S. Kim

    January 15, 2015

  12. Dear Ones, Syngman Rhee, a wonderful, prayerful man so brimful of Godly graces of faith, hope and love, has been a joyful and encouraging force in our lives. God's blessings to all of you as you adjust through the waiting time until all meet again in the fullness of time.

    by Rebecca McElroy

    January 15, 2015

  13. He shall be remembered for the good work. His biography explains that he was a man of faith.. May his soul rest in eternal peace I

    by Rev Gondwe

    January 15, 2015

  14. I truly appreciate his example of being the servant of our Lord Jesus Christ. Alone in the foreign land, I was grown in his couple's embrace when I felt lost.. I feel a great loss but I believe he's enjoying eternality where there's no loss. Au revoir, until I see you again there!

    by Esther Park

    January 15, 2015

  15. I thank God for Syngman, dear friend and a giant Christian. I admired and appreciate his commitment for peace and justice. I treasure our time together in seeking human right and justice in our homeland Korea and effort s for reunification. We miss you and will be with you in time with all the saints.

    by John, Young Song Kim MD

    January 14, 2015

  16. Grief is short but live forever is everlasting Pastor Rhee I miss you I know where we meet again Be rest in peace till then

    by Paul suh

    January 14, 2015

  17. Prayers for his family & friends. Rev. Rhee was a great servant.

    by Bonnie Ruggiero

    January 14, 2015

  18. We miss you Someday we will see each other Face to face in Heaven And live forever in Christ Our Lord We love you pastor Rhee

    by Sarah suh

    January 14, 2015

  19. I appreciated Syngman so much. He felt a great affinity for me and my household of abandoned young people having been raised himself in a missionary's home after fleeing North Korea. He was a great Christian gentleman. Thank God for his life.

    by Rev. William J. Yoder (Bill)

    January 14, 2015

  20. Dear Samonim and Family, Rev. Rhee loved Wichita Korean Presbyterian Church so much. We owe inexpressible Christian love to him. We pray that God give him eternal peace and rest. Sincerely, Hyuck M. Kwon

    by Hyuck M. Kwon

    January 14, 2015

  21. God gave us a gift in Syngmann Rhee. Friend and mentor to many. I am blessed to have known him for the short period of time during my Union Presbyterian studies. My prayers are with the family. Thank you for sharing your husband and father with us.

    by Linda Jones

    January 14, 2015

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