Somebody, but Nobody… Nobody, but Somebody

By AHyun Lee

Somebody, but nobody nobody, but somebody

I am a Samo, a pastor’s wife (Korean). Yet, I am also a Moksa, a pastor (in Korean). The ambiguity of having uncertain identities being both a Moksa and Samo seems to make others uncomfortable.

I sometimes encounter people who intentionally avoid calling me “Pastor”. That part of me is not acceptable; it is invisible. It has been my ongoing journey to wrestle with this invisibility and ambiguity in my life. Is it just my personal issue or is it a more extensive issue?

I have often heard clergywomen and pastors’ wives say, “I thought I was somebody, but I was nobody… but, when I thought I was nobody, they expected me to become somebody.”

Narratives of being a Samo in a Korean immigrant church and a Moksa in a cross-cultural and cross-racial appointment stand with all the complexities of race, ethnicity and patriarchy within the United Methodist churches. Their narratives share how they navigate their lives in the midst of multiple modes of oppressions and healings.

Tracing the narratives Korean American women as both being a Moksa (a pastor) and Samo (a pastor’s wife) in my work, it becomes the essential source for rethinking what the meaning of being a woman in the church is and how their ministry connects to the United Methodist churches.

‘Just the pastor’s wife’

My mother is a Samo, a pastor’s wife (in Korean). She is a very gifted leader; she is smart, talented and thoughtful. When she was in her mid-twenties, she wanted to devote her life to God and she married my father who was a pastor. My mother helps my father’s ministry. She is ready to open our home to members of the congregation at any time and serves them lots of food. She wants me, a pastor’s kid, to be a model Christian. She does everything a pastor’s wife can do.

I always think of her as a minister in her own right. However, some in the congregation do not respect or appreciate what she contributes to the church. I was very confused when I heard, “She’s just the pastor’s wife.” Although I see her as a minister, she is not the minister. Although she is a church leader, she is not the leader of the church.

In addition, her life as a Samo is not only in private aspects of the religious institution, but also in public spaces outside church contexts. She is expected to be a Samo to people who are not members of her church. Who my mother is, is always ambiguous.

I am a Samo, a pastor’s wife. One day, I realized I did not feel called to be a Samo. I have had critical reflection about my internal reluctance to be called as a Samo, a pastor’s wife. What does it mean to me to be named as a Samo? I probably have a deep fear of being asked to accept the ambiguity my mother experiences every day.

When do you think you are somebody?

I keep questioning the meaning of my and my mother’s narrative of being a woman, especially a female leader in the church. What is the meaning of their unique stories being a Samo and Moksa in the ministries? What does it really mean to be a woman leader in the church?

Through my work researching the narratives of being a Samo and a Moksa, I learned that my personal narrative is not only related to my own emotional and subjective experiences, but also to the dominant narratives which are constructed by social systems, cultural and religious structures.

Here, I invite you to ask yourself, “When do you think you are somebody? When are you expected to become nobody?” Let’s start to build attentive solidarity together for empathically embracing their struggle, joy, cry, and pains through being present in a sacred space where we don’t even know whether we are somebody or nobody.

Coming up…

In the next blog, I am going to share the unique story they each encounter as a woman of color in their ministry. There are crucial narratives they experience with the different cultures, ethnicity and nationality. Their narratives also disclose psychological conflicts highlighted by colonial tensions and relational struggles with patriarchal and Confucians structures, as well as contradictory expectations in the relationships with others and the wider community.

In the third blog as the end of these series, I will look for our hope of listing to their narratives for those whose points of references of belongingness are multiple and how we as a woman in the church empower their own narratives as unique and meaningful narratives for transforming our community.

Rev. AHyun Lee is an ordained Elder serving the Mayville United Methodist Church in the Wisconsin Conference of The United Methodist Church. She is a graduate of Garrett Evangelical-Theological Seminary (Ph.D.) and Wesley Theological Seminary (M.Div.). Her research focuses on transnational and multicultural pastoral counseling in global and postcolonial contexts. AHyun is the Coordinator of the Asian and Asian American Ministry Center at Garrett-Evangelical. She is also a clinical fellow as the pastoral psychotherapist at the Center for Religion and Psychotherapy of Chicago. She has a strong passion for empowering women’s leadership and sharing women’s narratives for serving psychological and spiritual care for women in the church, conference, community and the world.

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