Q&A: Finding a way into Methodism, and the clergy

Editor’s note: Throughout March, designated Women’s History Month by Congress, United Methodist News Service offered Q&As with notable women in the UMC. Here’s one with Roslyn Lee, a licensed local pastor pursuing ordination as an elder. Barbara Dunlap-Berg, internal content editor for United Methodist Communications, did the interview.

Tell us a little about yourself.

A second-generation Korean American, I was born Aug. 15, 1982, in Flushing, N.Y. I grew up aware of the cultural differences around me. When I was in fourth or fifth grade, we moved to the New York suburbs. A teacher told me I had three things against me: 1. I was a girl. 2. I was an Asian girl. 3. I was an Asian girl in a white man’s world.

But even at that young age, I was quite proud of my Korean heritage and culture. Luckily, other teachers, role models and mentors encouraged and supported me and, most of all, gave me an opportunity to define and embrace myself.

Roslyn Lee holds her 4-year-old son, Joel. She serves Dix Hills United Methodist Church in the New York Conference. PHOTO BY WON TACK LEE

I believe this still to be true. I’ve been told that I have an attitude that challenges the status quo. Why accept what is without trying out what could be? Why go with what people determine for you when you can create and live up to your own expectations? God calls us to live each day as a disciple of Jesus Christ. I choose to live as if I know what it means to be a beloved child of God.

I didn’t always know this. I heard the call to ministry while in high school. I prayed and questioned what that could mean. My parents prayed with me and suggested I speak with the pastor of the church I then attended. I was told that ministry was for the ordained and ordination was for men. Then I was told I could not be a pastor’s wife, as I did not have the personality of a pastor’s wife. Apparently, there was a mold to fit into and I did not fit into too many molds!

Much of this understanding changed as I met and married my husband, Won Tack Lee. He began his seminary education at Drew University, the theological school. I became a seminarian spouse, only a step away from being a pastor’s wife. Three female deans at Drew, where I received my bachelor’s degree, challenged my longtime understanding of an individual called to ministry. They were all called by God, and they didn’t fit into a one-size-fits-all model of a godly woman!

Long story short, I found myself in seminary just after my husband graduated. I began exploring and discerning my call when I was three months postpartum with our son, Joel Lee, who will be 4 in April. (Our daughter, Sophiel Lee, is 9 months old.) I received my M.Div. from Drew in May 2012. My seminary education at Drew was life-changing as I met some amazing, God-loving people who not only sought justice, but lived justice.

In what church did you grow up and with what local church are you now affiliated? Are you lay or clergy?

I grew up in the Hyo Shin Bible Presbyterian Church. I often joke that I married into Methodism, but the reality is the United Methodist Church welcomed me and helped me to live into my call. I serve as a licensed local pastor at the Dix Hills United Methodist Church in the New York Conference. I am pursing ordination as an elder.

What are your gifts and how do you share them with the church?

My gifts are in creative worship, bridging gaps and delegation. I understand the value and importance of being in ministry together. Having experienced cultural dualism, I strive to create an open and encouraging space for all God’s people. Once we step back from the dualism, we experience freedom in the wonder of God and how God continues to lead us.

Further, I understand that both lay and ordained ministries are critical in the life of the church. It is important to find places for all to serve. As the body of Christ, we all have a place at the table.

How do you nurture others, especially girls and women, through the church and in other aspects of your life?

At Drew, I taught English to the spouses of international students. Most of the spouses were women. I am a firm believer that language is power. It was a way for me to encourage and enable the women to find the words and voice to claim the most basic information. I had the great honor of being present for the birth of several babies as I translated and provided support for some of the women during delivery.

I have been able to share my experiences to encourage, listen to and mentor girls in their struggle with identity. One particular way that I have nurtured women is through Bible study. Women are often thought of as gossipy. In our study group, we reclaimed the gossiping and looked at how gossip is a form of storytelling. We wrote narratives to claim who we were, are and desire to become. We built our storytelling into a history of where we came from and who God calls us to be. We learned from one another, breaking down the stereotypes and prejudices that often stand in our way of living into being disciples of Christ.

Why is Women’s History Month important to you?

Women’s History Month encourages me as I stand on the shoulders of the amazing women who came before me. I am, in the same breath, reminded of the work that remains for us to carry on for a brighter future for our daughters and our granddaughters. I can’t possibly know who I am if I don’t know where and who I come from. As a Korean American, I need to know my heritage and culture. Likewise, as a woman, I need to know where women have been and where we strive to go.

Women’s History Month is not only about history. It is also about me and my identity and how I claim my identity. I am ready and willing to work for justice and to “pay” the cost for others to claim their identities.


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The United Methodist Reporter wants to encourage lively conversation about The United Methodist Church and our articles in the belief that Christian conversation (what Wesley would call conferencing) is a means of grace. While we support passionate debate, we cannot allow language that demeans or demonizes others, and we reserve the right to delete any comment we believe to be harmful or inappropriate. We encourage all to remember that we are all broken and in need of Christ's grace, and that we all see through the glass darkly until that time we when reach full perfection in love. May your speech here be tempered with love, and reflection of the fruits of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. After all, "There is no law against things like this." (Galatians 5:22-23)
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