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The Rev. Jihyun Oh is the nominee to be the next Stated Clerk of the General Assembly

Commissioners to the 226th General Assembly will vote on Oh’s nomination this summer.

(PNS) The Rev. Jihyun Oh, director of Mid Council Ministries and an Associate Stated Clerk in the Office of the General Assembly, is the selection of the Stated Clerk Nomination Committee to be the next Stated Clerk of the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.).

Oh’s first name is pronounced “Jee-hun.” If elected, the 1.5 generation Korean American, who was born in South Korea and raised in Kansas, would be the first Korean American to serve in the PC(USA)’s highest ecclesial office, only the second woman, and the first woman of color.

“I’m really honored and humbled to be nominated,” Oh said. “I certainly felt like I have some gifts I brought to this time and place, and I imagine others did too. I have enjoyed every conversation with them,” she said of the committee. “They are a diverse group of engaged people who are exercising faithful leadership. We got into deep theological discussions about the future of the church and society. They deepened my understanding of the church.”

Meeting in Salt Lake City, Utah, June 30-July 4, commissioners to the 226th General Assembly will vote on Oh’s nomination. It’s possible other candidates will also seek the office on the floor of the Assembly; learn more about the process here.

“Two things stood out the most for me with Jihyun: the primacy of prayer and spiritual discernment in her decision-making and the fact that she already has her hands in the soil of the unification process,” said the Rev. Gregory Bentley, a member of the nomination committee. “She has demonstrated, to my satisfaction, that she has the steady hand, depth and breadth of knowledge of the church and the moral fortitude to lead the PC(USA) during these convulsive and cataclysmic times in which we find ourselves.”

“Jihyun is exactly the right person to lead us through this time of transition in the PC(USA). She has deep respect and trust across the denomination,” said the Rev. Sallie Watson, the committee’s moderator. “Her pastoral sense, honed as a chaplain in a Level 1 trauma center hospital intensive care unit, serves her well and will serve us well. She can relate to all kinds of people … We’re so fortunate to have her among us.”

During an interview with Presbyterian News Service, Oh’s passion for her work is easy to detect. She teared up relating the memory of the day she was introduced as a church’s interim pastor. A clearly excited Korean American girl exclaimed, “Look! She’s here, and she looks like me!” Then the girl did “a little Korean bow,” Oh said.

“I don’t think I’ve ever felt so deeply what it means to have visual representation,” Oh said. “I still carry that image in my head.”

Oh, who’s 49, earned undergraduate degrees in Biology and German Studies from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1996 and a Master of Science in Finance from Florida International University five years later. In 2006, Columbia Theological Seminary conferred a Master of Divinity degree.

In 2007, she was ordained as a teaching elder by the Presbytery of Tropical Florida on behalf of the Presbytery of Chicago. Before being selected to lead Mid Council Ministries in the OGA in 2019, she managed the PC(USA)’s Call Process Support from 2017-19; served as interim pastor at Oglethorpe Presbyterian Church in Atlanta from 2016-17; as interim pastor and head of staff at Hamilton Mill Presbyterian Church in Hoschton, Georgia, from 2015-16;  as staff chaplain and clinical pastoral education resident at Grady Memorial Hospital in Atlanta from 2009-10 and again from 2011-15; and as associate pastor at First Presbyterian Church in Arlington Heights, Illinois, from 2007-09.

She is a trustee of the New Covenant Trust Company and has served as a member of the PC(USA) Foundation Board, as an ordination exam reader in both English and Korean, as moderator and vice-moderator of committees of the 221st and 222nd General Assemblies, and as moderator-elect and later moderator of the Presbytery of Greater Atlanta.

“I think there’s something important about who we are as Presbyterians in the world right now and who we are called to become,” she said. “That feels like an important question people are asking: What does it mean as a smaller denomination and in smaller congregations with various forms of leadership [including teaching elders and certified ruling elders]. What does it mean to be who we are in a particular tradition? Being in communion together in a particular way, what does it mean to the witness of Jesus Christ, in our place, our identity, in terms of what we can offer? That seems important.”

Oh identified “walking alongside and being available to” the Unification Commission among the next Stated Clerk’s most important work. “Working with colleagues in the agency and with entity partners to continue making sure we are faithfully preparing, I think that’s a huge issue,” she said.

She also lifted up the work of “engaging our partners in the world, our ecumenical and interfaith partners and our community partners. I know there are some conversations occurring among staff of the different agencies trying to engage different partners.”

She said she’s learned “what happens in the role itself” by watching and learning from the Acting Stated Clerk, the Rev. Bronwen Boswell, and the two men who preceded Boswell, the Rev. Dr. J. Herbert Nelson, II, and the Rev. Gradye Parsons, who was Stated Clerk during GA221 and GA222, when Oh served in committee leadership.

“As Presbyterians, we believe that the Holy Spirit is a part of our process,” Boswell said. “The thoughtfulness and prayer shown by the Stated Clerk Nomination Committee made space for the Holy Spirit to work to bring the best candidate forward for this time and place.”

Oh said Presbyterians and their leaders are “having to navigate expressions of culture all the time, and that feels very timely in some ways. There is the sense in which particularly the conversation on race in society has been talking about the polarities. I think there is something more nuanced about how we engage that conversation.

“I often reflect on what my role could be in those conversations,” she said. “I have done intercultural competency work, embodied as I am, that invites folks to think about the dimensions of diversity, and I want to keep bringing that up.”

“I also reflect on the fact that for many women who are of my generation in the Korean immigrant community, the Korean church was not really a place we could serve,” she said. “I served as youth director in a couple of congregations, but I knew that for the fullest expression of my vocation, that was not a place I could live that out. I continue to have hope for Korean American churches.”

Other members of the Stated Clerk Nomination Committee were quick to endorse their nominee.

Oh “has training and experience in transitional ministry, a must at this time of transition and shift in the life of the denomination,” said the Rev. Leanne Masters, the committee’s vice-moderator. “She has a gift of discernment and has the ability to see and work through complicated systems and situations and seek and find the grace-filled, Christ-led answer. Jihyun is a deeply Spirit-filled leader who has both vision and the ability to bring others along with her.”

“It was a heap of work, prayer, and discernment to select Jihyun to be our Stated Clerk,” said Nelson Capitan, a ruling elder and committee member. “From where I stand, Jihyun Oh will bring multiplicity, connectivity, relations, vitality and community to our denomination and the world, for that matter, with the help of our triune God.”

Her “humbleness, spirituality and devotion to the church were exceptional,” said the Rev. Sung Joo, a committee member. “Being elected, she will make a huge difference in the PC(USA).”

“Jihyun is also aware that this is a time of transition and understands that there will be growing pains,” said Yzette Swavy-Lipton, a ruling elder and committee member. “As she undertakes this work, she will faithfully embrace the guidance of the Holy Spirit to walk with PC(USA) as we live into a new era, a time of transformation and renewal.”

For her own part, “I feel really hopeful for the church,” Oh said. “I feel every time I am out working with mid councils and doing different things how resource rich we are, even though we don’t think we are — especially human resources. We have such good people with amazing gifts.”

“I feel incredibly hopeful for the church, and I hope I can communicate and invite people to that sense of hope,” she said. “We are doing and can still do amazingly faithful things, with God’s help.”

By Mike Ferguson, Presbyterian News Service