United Methodists welcome new bishop
United Methodists from across central and northeastern Pennsylvania gathered at the Community Arts Center in Williamsport Saturday afternoon to welcome a new Bishop of the Susquehanna Conference.
Jeremiah Jungchan Park has been on the job since Sept. 1, but Saturday was the first public opportunity for clergy and laity to meet the native-born Korean who emigrated to the United States in 1976.
"You've probably already noticed I speak with an accent," he smiled at the nearly 500 persons assembled. "I want you to know, I have now been in the U.S. longer than Korea and very much consider myself an American.
"And, less any of you have doubts, I want you to know that both of our children were 'made in the U.S.A.,' and this country celebrates my birthday in a big way," he smiled again, noting that he was born on the Fourth of July.
All kidding aside, the son of a Methodist preacher, shared his story about how he knew he was going to be a soldier of God, from a very early age.
And Park, now 60, noted that when he came to America, he adopted the American name Jeremiah because it fit his mother's testimony of her pregnancy with him, that she knew before he was born he would be set apart to do things for God.
"You will also find a similar story in the Old Testament book of Jeremiah," he said.
Park would be ordained a deacon in 1979, and later served pastorates in Rochester, N.Y., and Berkeley Heights, N.J., before becoming district superintendent in the Northern New Jersey Conference.
He was elected a bishop in 2004, and for the next eight years was the resident bishop of the New York Area- which included New York City and its suburbs reaching into Connecticut.
In July, he was reassigned to serve the Susquehanna Conference which includes 916 United Methodist Churches across 32 Pennsylvania counties.
Some 34 of the churches are in Lackawanna County, 40 in Luzerne, 29 in Susquehanna, 19 in Wyoming, 28 in Wayne, 38 in Bradford, and six in Pike.
Asked about being assigned to Pennsylvania, Park commented, "I thought my ministry would thrive in the context of diversity, but after my few short weeks here, I realize God knows best."
And then he shared a story about how he was actually a product of a local church not too far away.
He said that a young man- Henry Appenzeller- about 70 miles east of where they were meeting on Saturday, was called by God in 1885 and became the first Methodist missionary to Korea.
"What if he hadn't listened to God? Where would my native country be?" Park asked. "Now, here I am 127 years later in front of you. What an awesome God we worship."
"We can change," Bishop Park said, admonishing those gathered to help turn all local churches into vital and dynamic places that are evangelistic, missional, healthy and growing.
"I am not here just as your Bishop," Park added. "This world is our parish. We are the church together, and God is in charge, if we will listen."
Rev. Jon Buxton, who has oversight responsibility for some 134 northeast Pennsylvania churches as Scranton District superintendent, said Saturday after the 2-hour celebration that Bishop Park "brings an excitement, joy, and sense of hope than can only be good news for God and the church."
In the United Methodist Church, a bishop serves as a general superintendent of the entire church. In the United Methodist tradition, bishops are not "ordained" as bishops, but are clergy elected and consecrated to the office of bishop. Bishops give general oversight to the worldly and spiritual interests of the Church.
Bishops are elected by one of the five jurisdictional conferences held every four years in the United States and by the central conferences outside of the U.S.
Bishops in the U.S. are consecrated at the jurisdictional conference and are expected to report for work in their new areas on Sept. 1.
Bishops are assigned by their jurisdiction to serve a geographical area for a four-year term.
In the Susquehanna Conference, the Bishop will meet periodically with seven geographically defined District Superintendents to oversee day-to-day interests of the United Methodist denomination. (Rev. Jon Buxton presently serves the Scranton-Wilkes Barre area.)
The Bishop also presides over an annual conference gathering of clergy and laity representatives. The fourth Susquehanna Annual Conference is scheduled for June 13-15, 2013, at Messiah College in Grantham.