By Debbie Adams
The Thrasher Roanoke Korean Church, which meets at Thrasher Memorial United Methodist Church in Vinton on Sunday afternoons, celebrated its fifth anniversary on August 13 and 14. The Korean congregation is led by Pastor Seong Jae Jo, who also serves as Associate Pastor and Youth Director for Thrasher Memorial UMC.
The Korean Church at Thrasher originally formed in 2017 with a dozen or so members. The church started out meeting in members’ homes, then moved to a small office space on Jamison Avenue in southeast Roanoke. Their desire was to find a permanent, more spacious, and more church-like location; however, the cost of building their own church and its maintenance was prohibitive.
A series of conversations and the efforts of several pastors and church members at Thrasher brought the Korean Church to Thrasher Memorial.
A Korean woman who was attending services at Thrasher spoke to member Steve Musselwhite about starting up a Korean church in the area. He passed the inquiry along. Discussions followed with Thrasher Pastors B. Failes and Jesse Moffitt, and Pastor Peter Choi, the UMC District Superintendent, and the Thrasher Board of Trustees. The trustees were not just willing but delighted to invite the Korean Church to use their facilities.
Pastor Failes described the plan as a “great opportunity for us to be in mission to the over 240 Korean people in the Roanoke Valley.”
Their first service in the Chapel at Thrasher was on March 11, 2018.
Peter Choi was their first pastor. At the time he was also serving as pastor for two churches in the Ferrum area. The Korean Church met at 3 p.m. on Sundays to accommodate his morning schedule.
Members of the Thrasher Korean Church come from all over the Roanoke Valley. Pastor Choi described many of the families as Americanized Koreans who have lived in the valley since the 1970s. There are many multicultural families in the area with Korean members. Several speak English and Korean, but Korean is more comfortable for them. The Thrasher Korean Church services are almost entirely in the Korean language.
In addition to the Thrasher Roanoke Korean Church, there is also the Korean Baptist Church of Roanoke and a Korean Presbyterian Church in the Roanoke area.
When Pastor Choi transferred to Fishersville United Methodist Church, Pastor Jo had just been assigned to Thrasher Memorial as Associate Pastor and assumed the duties of pastor to the Korean Church, although they are not technically Methodist in denomination.
He preaches the sermon each week and leads the music for the service. One of the Korean congregation members mentioned that Pastor Jo sends a message of blessing to the congregation online via Facebook each day and how that has enriched her life.
When Thrasher’s youth minister, Bonnie Jones, retired this spring, Pastor Jo volunteered to take over her duties as Thrasher’s Youth Director in addition to all his other duties. Fortunately, he is young and energetic, and fluent in three languages—Korean, Spanish, and English.
Before coming to Thrasher, Pastor Jo had served as Youth and Worship Pastor at the Korean United Methodist Church of Greater Washington. He also led the Chapel Band as an undergraduate at John Brown University where he studied religious and sacred music.
In celebrating the anniversary, Saturday night, August 13, was designated as “Praise Night” – “remembering our unity in Christ,” and featured the Madee Ministries band from Northern Virginia and Baltimore, who filled the Chapel with songs and praise.
“Madee” means “joint” in Korean. The group says they “help the body of Christ by connecting, sharing and providing resources to grow together into the fullness of Jesus Christ in love.”
The Rev. Seungsoo “RJ” Jun was the guest speaker that evening. He is now the Associate Director of Serving Ministries for the Virginia Conference of the United Methodist Church, having served as lead pastor at Raleigh Court United Methodist Church in Roanoke from 2015 to 2020. His message centered on “having spirit and finding fire in the Holy Spirit. We are all called together to lift the name of Jesus Christ. If you want to go far—go together.”
Thrasher Memorial’s new pastor, John Hemmings, joined the Korean congregation for the services on Saturday night and brought along his family on Sunday.
His prayer for the congregation was “Lord Jesus, it’s a joy to celebrate the fifth anniversary of this church at Thrasher. Holy God, we praise you for all who attend and the difference they make in your Kingdom. Continue to use these disciples to draw closer to you, giving them the ability to demonstrate your goodness and grace to everyone they encounter. Holy Spirit, we invite you into this space today. To be sure, we are excited about the ways you bind us together as One Body. We are excited to see how you will show up. Open our eyes to your grace this afternoon.”
Hemmings said to his own congregation earlier in the day that although “we might be different in worship, we are united in Christ. We embrace and celebrate the life of the Korean Church at Thrasher.”
Pastor Jo led the worship service both in song and sermon on Sunday afternoon. He explained that “one-ness doesn’t mean sameness but being unified in worshiping Jesus Christ. While we may have different cultures, different languages, or be of different generations, we are here together in this place, not by coincidence—it is God’s plan and will that we be one in Christ.” This is a theme he echoes each time he speaks, no matter the congregation—the grace of God as His gift to us.
Deacon Kume Hea Kwon presented a history of the Thrasher Roanoke Korean Church at the end of the service. Hyo Kwang Ahn, from the Korean Baptist Church, delivered the benediction. Afterwards the congregation and guests continued the celebration with a meal of traditional Korean foods (kimchee, bulgogi, seaweed sheets, rice, shrimp, and more) in the small fellowship hall.
Thrasher Roanoke Korean Church (and Thrasher Memorial UMC) are located on Washington Avenue just across the street from the Vinton War Memorial.