More than 10 years ago, when Silvia was struggling with the difficult decision to give up her life in Korea to support her children studying in Melbourne, it was her local church leader who encouraged her.
“The leader said to me ‘Silvia, just go there because I think God has other plans for you’.
“I felt like Abraham going to Canaan and thought to myself ‘I am going to Melbourne and see what happens’. Now I am here and working in the UCA. This is not what I did, this is led by God.”
Since arriving in Australia, Silvia has completed her PhD in linguistics, studied theology and currently works at the University of Melbourne teaching Spanish and Korean, while both of her daughters have completed their education.
Silvia recently joined the Korean Church in Melbourne and last year was approached by the director of the synod’s intercultural unit, Rev SweeAnn Koh, to consider a leadership role within the CALD community.
“The Korean church I attend is part of the Uniting Church, so I thought it was necessary to know what the Uniting Church is based on. When SweeAnn visited our church, we talked and he offered me the role,” Silvia said.
“The idea of the relationship officer is that CALD women are very visible in their congregations but they are invisible in the UCA. So it’s to make them come to Synod meetings and encourage more active involvement in UCA and the synod.”
One of the first events Silvia attended was the UnitingWomen Conference held in Adelaide in April this year. She is the first to admit that, initially, she was a bit overwhelmed.
“We don’t share our building with other congregations so in terms of my faith community it is very exclusively Korean,” Silvia said.
“In Adelaide there were around 400 women from all around Australia and so many different backgrounds. First of all I was shocked and second it was very emotional. A feeling within me made me think ‘Yes, this is a real gathering. I am living in a multicultural society’.”
Silvia said the conference encouraged her to think about ways to expand her own faith community beyond the walls of the Korean Church.
She is particularly keen to encourage more women to step into leadership roles. Although recently Korean women have been accepted as ministers, often they are relegated to minor roles within the church.
In this regard, Silvia said the speaker on the fourth day of the conference was especially inspirational.
“There was a guest speaker and I noticed she was Korean because of her name,” Silvia said.
“I didn’t know who she was, I thought she was just a pastor or minister.”
It wasn’t until she returned to Melbourne and picked up a book written by the speaker that Silvia realised the speaker was Rev Myung Hwa Park, the moderator of the NSW synod.
“This was another shock. Woman. Korean woman. Reverend. Moderator!”
Silvia knew she had found the role model she was looking for, and organised her first conference, the 2016 Uniting Korean Women’s Forum, with Rev Myung Hwa Park as a guest speaker.
In August, 36 Korean women from throughout Victoria – ranging in age from early-20s to their 70s – gathered to discuss their experiences of worshipping within a multicultural church.
For some it was their first real introduction to the UCA. Vic/Tas moderator Rev Sharon Hollis, along with a translator, gave the women a brief overview of the Church, and Myung Hwa Park led conversations on living life through the ‘diaspora prism’.
Although the first conference concentrated on the Korean community, Silvia feels the issues raised will be relevant to women from throughout the CALD community. She is keen to organise another forum including women from other cultures.
The importance of encouraging women to become leaders was apparent to Silvia when she was organising the event.
“I wanted to put on the poster advertising the event ‘Women’s leadership group’ but some of the women, even the younger women in their 30s, were quite intimidated by the term leadership,” she said.
“I thought – this is incredible. In Australia, a woman in her 30s who is raising the children is saying that leadership for women is uncomfortable.”
According to Silvia, the real power in Korean churches can be found in the kitchen. She jokes that it is like the biblical story of Martha and Mary.
“Martha was working in hospitality whereas Mary wants to hear Jesus preaching. The women in our church who are in the kitchen are very strong and powerful. But those like me, who are interesting in preaching, educating children and so on, have no voice actually. So women must change.
“The mothers must change. We have to raise our children to be part of this multicultural community and show them that they can speak out with those from other ethnic backgrounds.
“The mothers must change first.”