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Korean church makes Thrasher its new home

A new Korean church has begun meeting at Thrasher Memorial on Sunday afternoons; from left, Pastor Peter Choi with wife Andrea and Jan Failes with her husband Thrasher Pastor B. Failes– now all of Thrasher Memorial UMC.

A newly formed Korean church has found its home in Vinton at Thrasher Memorial United Methodist Church.

On March 11, the congregation of 25 or so members met for the first time in the original chapel at Thrasher at 3:30 p.m. with services entirely in Korean.

Pastor Baesick “Peter” Choi is their leader. He lives in the Ferrum area and pastors two churches there on Sunday mornings— Bethany United Methodist Church at 10 a.m., followed by Maple Grove UMC at 11. That’s the reason for the afternoon services in Vinton— to accommodate his morning schedule.

“He will continue there and begin this ministry here,” said Thrasher Pastor B. Failes.

The Korean church formed in August 2017, inviting Choi to become the pastor, although he was serving in the Danville UMC District with his churches in Ferrum. (Thrasher is part of the UMC Roanoke District.)

It would be unusual for a pastor to serve in two different UMC districts, but the proposal was embraced and facilitated by Roanoke District Superintendent the Rev. Kathleen Overby Webster and the Rev. Dr. Janine Howard, Superintendent of the Danville District

The new church congregation started out gathering for services in members’ homes. In September they began meeting in a small office building on nearby Jamison Avenue with the desire to eventually find a church location.

A Korean member of the congregation at Thrasher asked fellow member Steve Musselwhite to see if Thrasher might be willing to let the Korean church meet in their facility. He spoke to the trustees. Thrasher was not only willing, but excited to have them. Failes views this step to be a “great opportunity for us to be in mission to the over 200 Korean people in the Roanoke Valley.”

The Korean congregation is moving to Thrasher as a step in the process of forming a United Methodist Korean Church in the Roanoke District. They are not planning on construction of their own church building with the subsequent high costs of construction and maintenance.

Thrasher Memorial is now home to a new Korean church with services entirely in Korean. They meet in the old sanctuary on Sundays at 3:30.

While the Korean service on March 11 was completely in Korean, it was possible for visitors who speak only English to follow what was a traditional service— especially the music, which Pastor Failes says is a universal language. It was easy to recognize “I Know Whom I Have Believed,” “I Need Thee Every Hour,” “Blessed Assurance,” and “Where He Leads Me.” Most members of the Korean congregation brought Bibles with them that also contained a hymnal.

Some words in Korean are recognizable in English, for instance, “love,” “holy,” and “wholesome” sound virtually the same, and “amen” is “amen.”

There were prayers, mainly for the congregation and their needs.

The scripture lesson for the day came from a familiar passage– 1 Corinthians 13: 1-3. “If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.”

Choi’s message was of the need to live a holy life to truly express genuine love— the need to make yourself clean and holy before the Lord. He has a resonant speaking voice, a beautiful singing voice, and it was apparent that he has good humor from the laughter interspersed in his message, which was also interrupted frequently by “amens” from the congregation.

Choi said that while he generally uses the same sermon at his two morning churches, which are not Korean; he prepares a different sermon for the Korean church service each week.

Pastor Failes welcomed the Korean congregation along with Pastor Choi and his wife Andrea, saying, “This is now your home; please make yourselves at home here.”

The service at Thrasher was followed by a dinner in the old fellowship hall of the church, prepared by the women of the congregation in the adjacent kitchen. Choi says the men set up and clean up. At their first dinner at Thrasher, the menu featured colorful, traditional Korean dishes of kimchee, spicy fish salad, egg rolls, sesame leaves, short ribs, rice, and seaweed sheets (used basically in place of bread).

Members of the congregation come from all over the Roanoke Valley. Pastor Choi says that many of the families are Americanized Koreans who have lived in the Roanoke Valley since the 1970s. There are also many multicultural families in the area with Korean members. Several speak Korean and English, but Korean is “more comfortable for them.”

Pastor Choi has been in the United States for five years. He was born in Pyeongchang, South Korea, site of recent Olympic Games. He attended seminary in South Korea and served for six years as a youth minister there. When he was 29 years old, he moved to Vancouver, Canada, where he served as a pastor for 13 years and earned his Master of Divinity degree. In 2013 he came to the Ferrum churches. This summer he will complete his Ph.D. from the University of Manchester.

Choi says that he feels a real connection to his Korean congregation, who are very dedicated to their church. They truly feel that “God is leading us” with the establishment of their new church and ministry.

Pastor Failes and his wife Jan feel a special connection to Korea because their son is Korean. The Thrasher congregation feels that connection as well since their beloved associate pastor for the past five years was Pastor Jae Song, also from South Korea. Last summer “Pastor Jae” was ordained and became the pastor at Red Valley UMC in Boones Mill.

Pastor Choi welcomes visitors to the services, although they will be presented in Korean, and to the meal afterwards. The two congregations, Thrasher and the Korean Church, hope to have a joint service in Korean and English tentatively scheduled for April or May.

The Korean congregation will be having prayer services on Wednesday evenings at 6:30 at Thrasher, also in Korean.

Thrasher has now gotten rather busy on Sunday afternoons and evenings with their youth using the larger Jones Fellowship Hall and its kitchen for their services; as well as Confirmation Classes and an AA meeting in other locations in the church, and now the new Korean church.

Thrasher Memorial UMC is located on Washington Avenue in Vinton, just across the street from the Vinton War Memorial.

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