Four Korean American pastors did what they call “pulpit rotations” for three weeks in August, taking turns speaking at each others’ ministries. I had the chance to join their de-briefing lunch after the rotations were concluded. Their talks were light-hearted, and the discussion consisted of food preferences, ideal manly body types, -- and of course, what stood out to them during the pulpit rotations, and what they plan on doing in the future.

The four pastors are a part of a small gathering of five churches in the South Bay area called South Bay Together: Torrance First Presbyterian Church (PCUSA), Faith Presbyterian Church of Torrance (PCUSA), The Branch (the English ministry of Podowon Baptist Church (SBC)), Crosslife (the English ministry of Gardena Presbyterian Church, an independent Presbyterian congregation), Shalom Presbyterian Church (PCA), and South Bay Mission Church (non-denominational). Only Shalom Presbyterian Church was unable to participate in the pulpit rotations this time around.

One of the first things half-jokingly (half-seriously) mentioned was the “uncomfortable” heat at South Bay Mission Church due to broken air conditioning.

“It was a hostile environment,” joked Pastor Billy Song of Torrance First Presbyterian.

“You guys don’t need a membership class – if they stay through the whole service and come back each Sunday in that heat, they’re committed members,” joined Pastor Ed Kim of Crosslife.

All of the congregations have distinct characteristics. South Bay Mission Church is the only independent church plant of the four, while Faith Presbyterian Church of Torrance is an English congregation planted by Torrance First Presbyterian Church. The rest are English ministries of Korean immigrant churches. The age demographic differed as well, with South Bay Mission Church and The Branch being on the younger side – from their twenties to thirties – and Torrance First Presbyterian Church and Faith Presbyterian Church of Torrance being on the older side – mostly married couples from their forties to sixties. Crosslife is also the most multi-ethnic of the four congregations, with some 30 percent of the congregation being Hispanic, African American, or White. Most of the churches have about 40 to 60 members.

Hence, pastors exchanged brief information about their respective congregations before doing the pulpit rotations for the guest speakers to prepare accordingly. Pastor Ed, for example, told the other pastors not to mention any Korean jokes in their sermons, “because a third of the congregation won’t get it.”

The different characteristics of each congregation also meant different dress codes for some of the pastors. Pastor Tim, for example, is usually found wearing casual clothes, even when he preaches at his home church; but when he had to guest speak at Faith Presbyterian Church, he dressed up with a button-up shirt.

“I think that’s the most formal outfit I have, and I think the last time I wore it was at Good Friday service at Faith Presbyterian,” said Pastor Tim Lee of South Bay Mission Church (SBMC).

Pastor Ed, on the other hand, knew better to dress down at Pastor Tim’s church this time around. He said he showed up at SBMC in a shirt and tie the previous time he guest spoke, and “felt very over-dressed.”

“You could preach in shorts and they probably wouldn’t mind,” Pastor Tim said regarding SBMC’s congregation.

One of the benefits of pulpit rotation was that the congregations had the chance to be exposed to different styles of preaching by different pastors during that period. One ministry even had the chance to be exposed to a topic that they normally couldn’t be exposed to by their home pastor. Members of The Branch ministry – which consists mostly of single young adults and some young married couples – had asked The Branch lead pastor Randy Choi to hear a sermon on marriage, but Pastor Randy has not married yet himself. He asked Pastor Sung Chang of Faith Presbyterian to preach on marriage, allowing the congregation to receive a message on a topic they normally would not have been able to.

A downside to the pulpit rotations, however, was that newcomers visiting the church for the first time were disappointed that they were unable to hear the home pastor preaching during their visit, according to Pastor Tim. As the pastors also discussed whether they would mind having to miss their home church service to be able to guest preach at another’s, Pastor Ed pointed out, “I would want to be there as much as I can though, so that if there are newcomers, even if I’m not in the pulpit, I could at least greet them and say hello.”

This gathering of pastors – South Bay Together – originally began as a group of Korean American pastors in the South Bay who met regularly to simply share how their ministries are going, and eventually developed into a group of congregations that share ministry together, including going on mission trips and participating in community outreach together. This was the first time South Bay Together tried the pulpit rotation, and they plan to do it again next year.

Most recently, South Bay Together worked together to provide new backpacks and school supplies to homeless students in the Lawndale School District. They plan to do a toy drive together this upcoming December to give Christmas gifts to children in low-income or homeless families.

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