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Missionary Rebound

First generation immigrant clergy are bringing new life and new ideas to Canada’s prairie churches.


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Jumping in the PT Cruiser, I headed west from Winnipeg in search of Presbyterian congregations for a pastoral study project. An interesting pattern emerged as I drove the Trans-Canada Highway.

In Carberry, Man., (population 1,502) I found Knox-Zion on the main street, and behind it the manse where I met Rev. Minho Yoo. The joke in town is when Minho and his family arrived, they doubled the number of Koreans in the community. A little further west is First, Brandon, where Rev. Dong-Ha Kim is the minister.

Crossing into Saskatchewan, I stopped for lunch in Grenfell (population 947) and ate at the local Chinese restaurant (obviously a popular place for lunch). At Trinity, I met three members of the congregation who described all that Rev. Jonathan Kwon did there before moving to Swift Current. Then it was off again because I had a coffee break scheduled in Moose Jaw, where I heard about Rev. Apack Song’s ministry at St. Mark’s in the late 1990s and early 2000s. I stopped for gas in Swift Current but, finding St. Andrew’s and Jonathan would have to wait for my trip back, I pushed on to Medicine Hat.

Settling into the motel room, I thought of other Presbyterian congregations on the prairies that are being served—or had recently been served—by first generation immigrant clergy from Asia or Africa. In Alberta there was: Fort St. John in the Peace River Country; Knox, Bassano and Gem; and Memorial, Sylvan Lake. In Manitoba: St. Andrew’s, Flin Flon; St. Andrew’s, Thompson; Knox, Neepawa; Lockport Community; and Knox, Stonewall.

These churches are blessed with immigrant ministers whose own Christian story goes back to North American or European missionaries. It is what I call a “missionary rebound;” we too are in need of missionary efforts. (I have intentionally not included white South Africans since their church did not arise from Western mission efforts.)

Clichéd expectations might suggest that small town congregregations would not be open to immigrant clergy. And quite often people are surprised this is the case. But these congregations did just that, and they did it on the merit of the candidates. As a former search committee member said about the first generation immigrant minister their congregation called, “There were other candidates, including Caucasians. We called him because he had the most passion and ability.” Congregations call the person they believe will best serve them. While congregations in small prairie communities do not see large numbers of applications when looking for a minister, rarely do congregations have only one applicant seeking a call.

(In only one case, Knox, Neepawa, did the congregation decide to call an immigrant minister because of the changing demographics of their community. In Neepawa, the expansion of the hog processing plant has brought significant numbers of immigrants, including Koreans, into the community. Knox called a bilingual (Korean and English) minister to reach the new arrivals.)

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About the author

Rev. Peter Bush is minister at Westwood, Winnipeg. He gratefully acknowledges the support of the Louisville Institute for funding his pastoral studies project. He also thanks Westwood for generously providing the time to travel and meet people, to read and reflect.

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