The Rev. Dr. Jin Kim has been pastor of Southold’s United Methodist Church for a month now, and in that time he’s focused almost exclusively on listening to his congregation and researching their needs.
On Sept. 18, he’s inviting the community as a whole to participate in a visioning session at 11 a.m., just after the Sunday service.
Dr. Kim had been pastor at St. Paul’s Methodist Church in Middletown, N.Y., for the past five years, and before that preached at several churches in Manhattan and Queens.
The Methodist New York Area Conference bishop’s office frequently moves ministers to churches where it feels they can do the most good. He replaces the Rev. Lorraine DeArmitt, who left Southold to become pastor at Westbury United Methodist Church.
Dr. Kim said this week that he has frequently been assigned to churches in transition. In Middletown, for example, the congregation was changing rapidly as many New York City residents moved out after 9/11.
“I’m doing research on the community and the townfolks. I want us to get to know each other. I’ve just been listening to people,” he said in an interview this week in his basement parish office. “I would like to find out the common vision of the community, from both members of the church and non-members.
“Methodists are talking always about connectionalism,” he said. “I want to go beyond the walls of the church. The whole community is my folks. All of Southold is my parish.”
Dr. Kim said he’s learned from talking to parishioners that Southolders’ traditions have more in common with New Englanders’ than with those of Middletown or New York City residents. He said he also found that many people he’s met enjoy a high quality of life in a beautiful place. But he said it’s his job to be present for the underprivileged and people often left out.
“You have to reach out to the marginalized people in the community,” he said. “If you do that, wherever you go, you can be effective.”
Dr. Kim said he has seen some parallels between Southold and other places he’s lived. For example, very few young people stay in Southold after high school, in part because there are few jobs for them here. Dr. Kim left his home in Seoul, South Korea, as a young man, hoping to study mechanical engineering in the United States, and said he understands what drives those young people.
“Our economic system is globalizing. Many young people are getting jobs outside the U.S.,” he said. “The world is getting smaller. We have to open our eyes to see the changing world and live together in harmony.”
Dr. Kim’s path to the ministry was a winding one. He came to the U.S. in 1972, completed his undergraduate work and was planning to study mechanical design in graduate school when he began attending classes at New York Theological Seminary, which changed his entire view of his path in the world.
He met his future wife, Jaewon Kim, a medical doctor, and the couple had three children, now grown. After completing undergraduate work at New York Theological Seminary, he enrolled at Union Theological Seminary in New York City.
“Before I graduated, someone asked me, ‘What is your calling?’ ” he said. “They opened my eyes. I began to see American society with different eyes. There are many problems in the country, but Jesus talked about justice and peace. There are many areas where we can work for justice and peace.”
Dr. Kim then enrolled in the doctorate theological program at Drew University and began preaching in New York City.
“It was all in urban settings and cultures,” he said. “I needed further study in being an effective leader of community.”
This past year, after the Rev. DeArmitt had been in Southold for 10 years, Bishop Jeremiah Park decided that Dr. Kim’s skills at community-building would be best used in Southold.
“Every pastor specializes in a certain area. I have a lot of experience in communities that are changing,” he said. “John Wesley started the practice of moving ministers. The bishop appoints anyone, anyplace, according to need.”
But what Dr. Kim needs right now in Southold is to hear from the community. He began with his first sermon on July 3, about what members need to do to write their own personal declarations of independence. He has continued preaching with metaphors of
groundbreaking and fertile new soil, giving sermons with titles like “Miracle Grow and Peat Moss.”
And he’s optimistic that he’s found a new spiritual home where he can do good work.
“This church has good leaders,” he said. “I can work with them. I see vision and synergy among the leadership.”