(Left to right) Candler alum Rev. David DongSeong Ko, Jessica, the Honorable Norman Mineta, and Rev. Keith Inouye at Wesley UMC.A year ago, I quit my job on Wall Street to pursue theological study at Candler. I was following a call to return home to Northern California and serve as a local church pastor. In particular, I felt a call to the Japanese American community and to younger people, many of whom have left the church.

This summer has been an opportunity to continue to discern my call. I am serving as a ministerial intern at Wesley United Methodist Church in San Jose’s Japantown. During the past two months, I preached for the first time, shadowed the pastors, participated in Vacation Bible School, and served on staff at junior high camp.

I also have had the opportunity to better understand the challenges and opportunities facing Wesley and the historic churches that make up the National Japanese American United Methodist Caucus.

Like my home church just an hour away, Wesley has been shaped by the unique history of Japanese Americans in the San Francisco Bay Area. Over 125 years and four-plus generations, the community has lived through the anti-Asian sentiment of the early 1900s, the forced removal and incarceration of Japanese Americans during World War II, and the social movements and activism of the 1960s and 1970s.

Experiences of marginalization, courage, and transformation have deeply shaped our theology and ministry. In November, the congregation stood alongside our Muslim neighbors when a local Islamic center received hate mail. Pastor and Candler alumnus Rev. David DongSeong Ko 09T coordinates ongoing compassion ministries with homeless and undocumented neighbors. In January, the church will celebrate five years as a Reconciling congregation.

I believe Wesley is thriving because it is following God’s calling with an awareness of and respect for culture and history. Thus a Japanese immigrant church established in 1895 is a church of those pioneers’ great-grandchildren, LGBTQ couples, Japanese speakers, and whoever walks through our doors.

The church in America continues to transform around us. We do not know where God is leading. As we live into what God has in store, may we honor the story of each congregation, the history of each community, and the calling of each new pastor. I believe then we will thrive.

Students can pursue summer internship opportunities with help from Candler's director of ministry internships. Learn more here.