The Hinesville Korean Presbyterian Church is no more.
On Friday, Feb. 17, the Savannah Presbytery — under which the Hinesville church was chartered — acted to dissolve the church following a 45-8 vote by 43 mid-council member churches.
According to a report of the Administrative Commission presented by the Rev. Andy Meeker, a second commission now will be appointed to wrap up all the church’s affairs, including taking possession of all “real and personal property, financial records, inventories of equipment and all assets,” while arranging for transfer of assets and accounts to the Savannah Presbytery.
“This has not been a pleasant experience for the Presbytery,” said Russell Gladding, acting general presbyter, stated clerk and treasurer of the Savannah Presbytery, who also noted the commission was formed in September 2011, giving it “original jurisdiction” over the church’s affairs. “We found there were two distinct sides, and the conflict had led to a schism that couldn’t be solved.”
According to Gladding, there were accusations of violence and intimidation against the Rev. Choong Yun Yu on one side and accusations of financial mismanagement and misconduct by the pastor and the church treasurer on the other.
Gladding said the church first was chartered by the Savannah Presbytery in 1996 as Mokchum Korean Presbyterian Church, but was dissolved in 2004 for the same kind of conflicts that resulted in its recent closing. The church was re-chartered as Hinesville Korean Presbyterian Church in March 2010. Gladding added that all assets and accounts of the local church are held in a trust by the Presbyterian Church U.S.A. as part of the charter membership.
According to Chol Kim, Hinesville Korean Presbyterian Church’s historian and wife of elder and session member Hae Yong Kim, the church actually was formed in 1987 and met in the founding pastor’s home and other locations until 1992.
“We built the church, every brick,” said Kim, who reported being forced by police to leave the church on Saturday when 30 members tried to hold one last service. “Now people who never put one penny into the church — they take over and kick out original members of the church.”
Gladding said the commission conducted “listening sessions” at the church in December and talked to every person who wanted to talk.
Although they found “absolutely no evidence” of financial mismanagement or misconduct, he said they heard first-hand testimony about violence and intimidation against the pastor and personally witnessed elders and church members confronting other members outside the church following their testimony before the commission.
Kim denied accusations of violence and intimidation, and said she doesn’t know of any assertions about misconduct. She added that no more than two members of the commission ever came to her church to talk with anyone.
Though Gladding questions whether one side had a clear majority, he said the Presbytery doesn’t always go along with the majority. To ensure there were no cultural misunderstandings, Gladding said an interpreter was brought in to help the commission understand individual testimonies and Korean culture.
“We couldn’t determine who was the ‘true’ church,” Gladding said. “It was never about a need for a new pastor. It wasn’t that simple. It was about power, money and control. They were uncooperative even after Pastor Yu was put on an extended sabbatical. They seem to have forgotten Christian principles.”
Kim agreed Christian principles were in question but not theirs. She said the interpreter the Presbytery brought in didn’t speak English well enough to translate, so she often served as a translator. She accused the commission of making its decision to close the church before the actual vote, saying “everything was orchestrated.” As evidence, Kim said Southwell Lock & Key of Hinesville already had been contacted to change the locks on the church doors prior to Friday’s 4 p.m. vote.
Furthermore, when the vote was made to dissolve her church, Kim said the meeting immediately went onto the “next agenda” item while she and other members of her church sat and cried, in shock that they no longer had a church.
“This is not the church,” she said, explaining that the church is a body of believers, not buildings, accounts and assets. “We’ll start a new church, though we have no location and no money. But money is not the issue.”
Kim is confident former members will start a new church, but added the new church might not be affiliated with the Presbyterian Church. Meanwhile, she said, former members of the Hinesville Korean Presbyterian Church plan to fight the decision to close their church in court.
“We wanted a gracious separation,” she said as she wiped tears from her eyes. “But now we want the public to hear our side. They treated us wrong. They denied us our rights.”