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Let’s Grow Together: Interview with EunSung Kim

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EunSung Kim, 35, is in chaplain residency training in Richmond, Virginia. He was introduced to Quakerism in college. He and his wife, Jocelyn, married under the care of Friends in Washington, D.C. They were accepted into membership of Richmond (Va.) Meeting last year. They became parents last November, and are raising their daughter, Winnie, in meeting. The son of a Methodist minister, EunSung went on to try different traditions, including Catholicism and Zen Buddhism, before settling into Friends. EunSung holds a masters of divinity degree from Duke University.

Jon Berry: How did you and your family come to Quakerism?

When Jocelyn and I began dating, I suggested we try different faith communities. I felt it was important for us to share our spiritual lives. Bless her heart, she agreed. We were living in Washington, D.C. We went to a number of churches—Catholic, Russian Orthodox, evangelical. Then we tried Friends. It felt to both of us a community we could be part of. For her, I think, it was the Quaker principle of simplicity and the social activism of Friends. I was drawn to the silence and communal worship. It was nice to sit in silence and experience God for myself. I was so tired of people telling me what to believe or how to experience God. In Friends meeting, I could just come, and sit, and listen.

Jon: What is meeting for worship like for you?

It depends on the Sunday. I usually sit in the back in a rocking chair. Sometimes my daughter falls asleep and sleeps the whole meeting. Having a little human being next to my heart and feeling that person’s warmth while in silence brings such deep gratitude. There’s a wonderful sense of connection in being in silence with my daughter and my wife. Recently we’ve started using the nursery; Winnie is getting older and wants more stimulation. So we’ll bring her into meeting for the first 20 minutes, when the children are present, then take her to the nursery when the older children go to First-day school.

Jon: How do you center yourself?

Just sitting and being still is the first thing. I try to close my eyes, breathe, and feel my body. Then I try to tune into the sound of my own breath. Sometimes, when I’m distracted, I say a prayer, like the Jesus prayer: “Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me.” Or a Hawaiian prayer I’ve learned that goes, “Thank you. I love you. I’m sorry. Please forgive me.” Sometimes I just say the first part, “Thank you. I love you,” over and over, until my mind calms and I center into silence.

Jon: What happens to you in meeting?

There are times I feel awakenings. The sense of time in meeting can feel different. Last week, I felt tense coming into meeting. But the silence was really deep. Two Friends broke silence, asking for songs to be sung. After the first song, I settled more deeply. Sometimes I go into meeting thinking I just want silence, but then someone speaks and it connects me to the God of my understanding, and I leave meeting in peace. I hope that as she grows up my daughter experiences this kind of silence. I hope meeting can be a safe place for her to experience, experiment, and discover. I remember being surprised when I first saw young Friends sitting in silence, some as young as six or seven sitting for the whole hour. It’s nice to worship in an intergenerational space.

Jon: How do you see Quakerism working in your life?

I love the Quaker belief in letting our lives speak. It can be at home with family. When we eat, we pray a silent prayer. Recently Winnie has been able to hold both our hands so we make a circle. In my professional life, I’m working toward being a chaplain. I’ve been doing my clinical hours in a hospital setting. I try to see the encounters I have with people in moments of crisis as being a meeting for worship. It’s a sacred space. Something happens that you can’t put into words. I love chaplaincy. It feels natural to who I am and the spiritual life I’ve been practicing. Often I’m the first Quaker people have encountered. Coming to a ministerial role, as a Quaker, is interesting. People want to put authority on me, but it’s not necessarily something I want. Authority is something I see as shared. In meeting, everyone is a minister, even children. Someone once said, after a meeting in which Winnie had been making baby noises, that they really enjoyed her share. Whether you use words, or sounds, or presence, you have a place in Friends.

Jon: Have you gotten involved in your meeting?

We went to one young Friends meeting in D.C. before moving to Richmond, and after moving went to a few Friendly Eight suppers. But then we became parents and life got busy. We made a conscious decision not to be on a committee when Winnie was a baby. I’ve recently talked with Jocelyn about taking on a role, and have been holding in the Light what that might be. The meeting has been really welcoming. From the time we began coming, people wanted to hear our stories and what drew us to Friends. We really appreciated the process of becoming members. One of my favorite parts was writing the letter to the meeting declaring I wanted to become a Friend. Before we applied for membership, Jocelyn and I took the time to go to the mountains. We stayed in a bed and breakfast, and wrote our letters in a beautiful place. We sat in silence before we wrote.

Jon: Has anything you’ve read about Quakerism especially impressed you?

Thomas Kelly’s writings really speak to me. I particularly like A Testament of Devotion, in which he talks about holy silence and holy obedience. I’ve been drawn to the contemplative life, monastic spirituality, centering prayer. Kelly describes that contemplative spiritual life. I appreciate the importance on living out belief. Silence is not just inner peace but to be useful to God.

Jon: What would you like to see for Quakerism in the years to come?

I hope more young families can come into meeting and feel welcome, with children, even younger children, like we have. Quakerism can be such a safe and welcoming space for families. As for myself, I hope I can become involved with the larger meeting. We attended our first regional meeting last year. It was great. Seeing a huge business meeting done with the help of the Spirit in a discerning way was wonderful. I love the practice of not moving forward if we’re not in unity; it’s not majority will but the will of a Higher Power. I love how people are drawn to Quakerism. Many of the people I’ve met in Quakerism didn’t grow up in meetings. They came to meeting and encountered a particular experience of the sacred. It felt like home. It’s what happened to me.

Jon Berry is a Friends Journal trustee. He lives and worships in New York City.


Posted in: Let's Grow Together, October 2015: Faithful Living

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