By Larry Austin
Island Dispatch Editor
Trinity United Methodist Church has welcomed a new pastor this summer whose spiritual travels have taken him from across the globe to the Island, and from the laboratory to the pulpit.
On July 1, the Rev. Sung Ho Lee stepped into the sandals of the Rev. Larry Baird as the new pastor of Trinity United Methodist Church. Baird retired earlier this year after serving since 2011.
Lee comes to Grand Island from New Hartford, New York, after serving in pastoral work for the last 21 years. Previously, he was district superintendent, supervising 86 churches in the Mohawk district in the Utica area, but he's very familiar with Western New York. He went to the University at Buffalo for graduate studies in chemical engineering in the 1980s and received his master's and doctorate degrees there. During that time, he had plenty of opportunities to drive across the Grand Island bridges on his way from school to Niagara Falls.
The Rev. Dr. Sung Ho Lee is the new pastor at Trinity United Methodist Church. (Photo by Larry Austin)
While at UB, he pursued a lifelong goal.
"I was born and raised in Korea in a Christian family and church was the center of my life, and my dream was to be a scientist," he said. "When I was growing up in Korea, the scientists were like celebrities in those days, because Korea was focused on economic growth by developing industry. So I wanted to be like one of them. That was my childhood dream."
It was in his second year of studies that he had what he called a "conversion experience" and felt a very strong call to ministry.
"I still pursued my dream to be a scientist, but Jesus stole my heart," he said, laughing.
After college, he came to the U.S. for his graduate studies, but a desire to minister had not left his thoughts, in fact, it was getting stronger, he said.
"I could not just give up my passion for ministry," he said.
After completion of graduate studies, he worked in both the U.S. and Korea.
"My call to ministry was growing and growing, and finally I made a decision to go to seminary," he said. He came back to the U.S. for seminary at the age of 39. Now 62, Lee said the decision he made to follow his heart was not difficult.
"It was not hard at all for me because I knew that I had a strong passion for ministry," he said. "Many people said, 'Wow, it must have been very hard,' but for me it was not hard, it was easy."
He was working in a research center at the time he made the life-changing choice.
"When I told them what I was going to do, I was surprised to hear from quite a few people saying, 'Wow, I really admire your courage and decision.' They knew I had a passion and a quite strong interest in other fields and other areas."
Though some view science and religion as polar opposites, Lee said church is much like the laboratory world he left. Through his studies, reading and training, "I learn something new. I learn some exciting ways of doing ministry, and then I just apply and practice that. Church is like doing experiments in a lab, and it's quite exciting."
"For me, there's no conflict, and there are different ways to explore the relationship between religion and science," he said. "And I would like to help people to explore how to put religion and science together. Actually, in one of the churches that I served in the past, in Corning, I started a group with whom I met regularly to explore the spirituality between religion and science. And I would be happy to do something like that here in Grand Island, too."
He started at Trinity on July 1 and quickly found the people of Trinity Church "very welcoming, loving and caring, with a strong faith. So I am very much blessed to be a pastor of this great congregation and to do ministry not only for the people of this congregation, but to the entire community of Grand Island."
His joins the Trinity family along with his wife Jung, with whom he has adult children, Sarah, in Los Angeles, and Joey in Virginia.
Lee looks forward to working together with other churches in an Islandwide faith community.
"I want to be active in the interdenominational effort," he said, noting he was immediately welcomed to the Island by the Rev. Earle King of St. Martin-in-the-Fields Episcopal Church.
The modern world has distractions to the faithful, but Lee said there are many ways for pastors to help guide the congregation, and people still long to make what he called a "spiritual journey."
"I do believe, in general, people are looking, searching for something deeper and meaningful, and churches must find ways to reach out to the people outside of the church." The Christian faith, centered in love, is experienced in a community of fellow believers and in a church that provides meaningful, dynamic and exciting worship services, he said. At Trinity, he said he has found a church that provides informal, contemporary, and traditional services to feed the soul's longing for that spirit of community.