- Associated Press - Monday, July 17, 2017

ENID, Okla. (AP) - Two Enid churches are finding strength in shared resources, overcoming differences in language and liturgy to build a stronger future for both congregations.

Peace Korean and Bethany United Methodist churches both have faced dwindling attendance in recent years and, like many churches, have faced concerns over maintaining large church buildings with fewer active members.

The Enid News (https://bit.ly/2tJNb2X ) reports that the two churches addressed both concerns last month when Peace Korean moved to Bethany, and brought along their minister to serve both congregations.

The Rev. Kwan Young Kim now serves both the Peace Korean and Bethany congregations in the same building, effectively doubling use of the Bethany building and reducing the facility cost for both groups.

Kim has served as a UMC pastor in Enid for the last three years, ministering to the predominantly Korean immigrant congregation at Peace Korean, which met at 902 S. Adams.

Born and raised in South Korea, Kim was ordained in the Korean Methodist Church in 2001, and came to the United States in 2008 after accepting a call to minister at a church in Dallas, Texas.

He moved to Louisiana in 2010, and in October 2014, accepted the pastoral post at Peace Korean UMC, moving with his wife and three children to Enid.

Kim said the Peace Korean congregation had about 50 members when he arrived in 2014. By this year that number had been almost cut in half.

“A lot of my Korean folks moved to other states, or back to Korea, so we lost membership and we struggled financially,” Kim said. “We had become a small congregation, so we couldn’t handle maintaining the building anymore.”

That’s a story all too common for the leaders at Bethany UMC, at 931 E. Maple. Their congregation also has seen numbers decline over the years, and currently brings in 25-30 congregants for Sunday worship.

And when the Rev. Kim Giles moved in June from Bethany to minister in Covington and Lucien, the congregation also found itself lacking a minister.

The Oklahoma Conference of the United Methodist Church approached both congregations with a possible solution: Kim would minister to both congregations, and they would share space at Bethany.

After several meetings between the conference and both congregations the plan was enacted. Peace Korean moved to Bethany on June 11 and the former Peace Korean church building will be sold by the conference.

Kim said bringing the two congregations together means overcoming some barriers, in culture and language.

“There’s an Asian culture, and there’s a Western culture, and they’re just a little bit different,” Kim said.

The Peace Korean congregation also conducts services in Korean - a complication for combining the two congregations in one service.

Kim said the natural inclination for some was to combine the congregations into one.

“Many folks want to merge both congregations, but right now it is hard to merge,” Kim said.

He said for now the two congregations will remain their own bodies, sharing the building and pastoral services.

Jody Turner, treasurer for Bethany UMC, said the state conference advised the two congregations make any efforts at consolidation slow and deliberate.

“We were advised by our district supervisor, for at least a year, to keep the two congregations separate,” Turner said, “and if we run into any snags along the way we can sort it out as we go.”

One step the congregations have taken is a combined worship service the first Sunday of each month. The other weeks, Peace Korean holds service in Korean at 9:30 a.m. and Bethany has its service in English at 11 a.m.

Joan Neighbors, chair of the Bethany church council, said the language barrier in the combined service has turned out to be not much of a barrier.

“He (Kim) says several phrases in Korean, and then repeats it in English, and he provides us all with the sermon printed out,” Neighbors said. “So far, it’s worked really well.”

Neighbors said the cultural and language differences pale in comparison to what the congregations share in their Methodist faith. And, the addition of the Peace Korean congregation in the shared service gives Bethany something it’s been missing: young families.

“It’s definitely made Bethany younger and more lively,” Neighbors said.

Turner said the combination of the two congregations also gives each the opportunity to learn from the different liturgical style of the other.

“Their service is a more contemporary style, and ours is more traditional,” Turner said. “We get to learn each other’s styles, and say ‘Hey, maybe we should try that. The majority of the people are willing to try something new.”

Kim said the Peace Korean congregation also has embraced the chance to learn and grow.

“Some worry about the change, but they want to follow the direction of God,” Kim said. “They delight in that.”

The two congregations still are working out how, or if, they will merge ministry work. But, the largest ministry effort, Shepherd’s Cupboard Food Pantry and Caleb’s Cause Diaper Ministry, continues.

The food pantry and diaper ministry provides food and diapers for families in need, 9-11 a.m. the second and third Thursday of each month.

Kim said it remains uncertain if the congregations will eventually merge, or simply continue to share resources. For now, he said the open minds and hearts of the congregants are making the shared resource scheme a success.

“They’ve had an open mind to all kinds of people and cultures,” Kim said. “It’s a challenging situation, but it’s the grace of God that’s brought us together.”

___

Information from: Enid News & Eagle, https://www.enidnews.com


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