In the United States, the Methodist Church has been known for
ministry (from a Latin word meaning
In the United States, the Methodist Church has been known for its “itinerant” ministry (from a Latin word meaning “traveling”). At its founding, clergy were “circuit riders” that ministered to small congregations scattered around the young nation’s frontiers.
This tradition remains today. Ministers are assigned to congregations (or other religious institutions) by the regional bishop in consultation with congregational leaders and can be moved to other congregations readily.
In July, members and friends of the historic Gilroy United Methodist Church welcomed a new pastor, one whose career in the ministry epitomizes this principal of movement.
The Rev. Eric Cho was born in Illinois. His father was also a Methodist minister. When he was 4, his family moved to South Korea, where they continued to live until they returned to the United States when Eric was in fourth grade.
Cho graduated from high school in Iowa and attended Oral Roberts University in Oklahoma. He received a call to ministry as he grew up. Feeling the affirmation of his call growing stronger, he majored in New Testament in college.
With increasing recognition that this was the vocation he should pursue, Cho attended Fuller Seminary, a nondenominational institution in Pasadena. He graduated with a masters of divinity degree in 1994.
The following year, he became the Christian education director at a United Methodist Church in Haverton, Pa., a suburb of Philadelphia.
He was responsible for all children in the congregation through high school age and was pleasantly surprised when three students at the nearby University of Pennsylvania committed themselves to working with him in his ministry.
Eighteen months later, Cho accepted reassignment to Wilshire UMC in Los Angeles, a church that included four distinct ethnic congregations: Filipino, Korean, Hispanic and Caucasian. His role was ministering to the English-speaking Koreans.
Cho says he learned a lot about working with multicultural congregations through this experience. He discovered people were equally passionate about their faith even though they enjoyed different music and styles of spirituality. It was necessary to juggle worship times and spaces, and it was important to avoid misunderstandings caused by cultural perceptions.
Cho was reassigned to the Korean UMC of Santa Clara Valley a year later, again focusing his ministry on English-speaking members of the congregation. But Cho’s goal was outreach to young adults in the high-tech industry, helping them develop their faith as they struggled with Silicon Valley’s unique lifestyle. Cho looks back at this six-year ministry as the final preparation for his ordination to the Methodist ministry in 2005.
That July, he was assigned to the Georgetown UMC in the Sierra foothills near Auburn, his first position as a “solo pastor.” This experience taught him the importance of developing lay congregational leadership. He discovered his favorite part of ministry is forming one-on-one relationships, going on pastoral visits and sharing in important times in peoples’ lives.
The following year, he made his biggest move and the only one he requested himself: pastor of a church in Seoul, South Korea. The congregation had approached him and requested that he minister to them.
Although the idea seemed impractical to him in many ways, Cho became convinced that God wanted him “to give it a try.” In 2007, Cho returned to the United States and was assigned to Kerman UMC (near Fresno) and called his two years in Korea a “growth experience.”
Pastor Cho, his wife, Julie, and sons Justin (15) and William (13) arrived in Gilroy in July. He has been pleased by his congregation’s warm welcome and impressed by the tremendous community spirit shown at the Garlic Festival.
He hopes to support the many ecumenical efforts sponsored by Gilroy’s churches and to become a resource for the community.
The Gilroy United Methodist Church is located at 7600 Church St. Sunday worship service is held at 10 a.m. For more information, call (408) 842-4021.