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(코리아타운뉴스) Bilingual Religious Leaders Harder to Come By

Protest ants and Catholics face similar shortage

Korean-American religious organizations are facing difficulties to recruit leaders who can speak English fluently. As Protestant, Catholic and Buddhist organizations operated by Korean-Americans seek leaders targeted towards its English-speaking community, they are often left bereft of qualified individuals who can perform such a duty.

“It’s imperative for our leaders to speak English when dealing with second generation Korean-Americans,” said one church official in L.A. Koreatown, who added that not a single resume has been submitted for more than a month since there has been a job posting for the position. “It’s not easy at all to find a quality bilingual person.”

Some point to the substandard conditions of many Korean-American churches in comparison to common religious organizations across the U.S.

“English-speaking religious practitioners often find first generation Korean immigrants in the U.S. to be authoritative,” said Dave Noh, an Irvine-based pastor who is a second generation Korean-American. “Aside from the cultural barrier, there are also issues regarding subpar pay. So many of the second generation Korean-Americans would rather find employment beyond the Korean community.”

The pool of prospective bilingual religious leaders also remain thin, as there are less students who aspire to serve religious organizations.

“The priority for seminaries now is survival,” said Sang-myung Lee, the president of Presbyterian Theological Seminary in America. “Unless there’s an emerging group of prospective religious leaders who are fluent in English, there’s a danger that first generation Korean-American churches may no longer exist in the future.”

Even Catholic and Buddhist organizations are facing the same problem. Those working in the industry say that a long-term solution must be provided in the near future, as the already widening gap between the first and second generation Korean-Americans could even become bigger without a strategic approach to counter the issue.

“It’s been difficult as there aren’t enough English-speaking Korean monks,” said Jong-mae Kenneth Park, a Korean-American Buddhist monk. “So our second generation Buddhists have been attending Chinese or Japanese temples as English sermons are available there.”

John Jae-dong Kim, a Catholic deacon and gastroenterologist, added, “There are cases in which retired American priests are invited at times to accommodate our English speakers.”


By Yeol Jang



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