On behalf of the Committee to Advise the Moderator, I am pleased to announce that the name of the Rev. Daniel Cho, minister of Rexdale Presbyterian Church in Toronto, soon to become the new minister at St. Mark’s Presbyterian Church in Toronto, will be placed as the sole nominee to be Moderator of the 2018 General Assembly, which begins on Sunday, June 3, 2018, at Wilfrid Laurier University in Waterloo, Ontario.
—The Rev. Stephen Kendall, Principal Clerk
The Rev. Daniel Cho, B.A., M.Div.
Daniel Cho grew up in Toronto after his family emigrated from South Korea in 1968. They attended the first Korean Presbyterian congregation in Canada that gathered at Knox Church, Spadina. Being a second-generation Korean-Canadian provides him a unique lens through which to experience the connection between faith-culture-generation. Having grown up in the church he was nonetheless dumbfounded when he sensed a call to the ministry.
After studying in the United States (Tulsa, Oklahoma and Chicago, Illinois) Daniel returned to attend Knox College and served as youth pastor. For the past 30 years he has been advocating for fostering the rich diversity of our church. Daniel is currently the minister of Rexdale Church, a multi-ethnic congregation, and moderator of the Presbytery of West Toronto. He is also a certified pastoral counsellor and certified mediator.
Daniel has served at all levels of the church as convener of the Life and Mission Agency Committee, presbytery moderator, committee chair, and convener of a synod special commission adjudicating the first case of alleged racial discrimination. He has represented the church on trips to Japan and China. Currently he is on the Board of Governors of Knox College and Justice Ministries Advisory Committee. He appears in the DVD church resource, Gifts of God: The Sacraments, jointly developed by The Presbyterian Church in Canada and the Presbyterian Church (USA). Daniel will be a main preacher at Canada Youth 2018.
Daniel is blessed to have known the spiritual writer, Henri Nouwen, as a personal mentor. He has been profoundly shaped and impacted by Henri’s teachings which he shares with others. Daniel has written on spirituality in a book chapter and for the Henri Nouwen Society. He also wrote on the intercultural church in the Presbyterian Record and has led seminars on this subject.
Additional study includes psychology and family therapy at Wilfrid Laurier University and Princeton Theological Seminary, and postgraduate work at the intersection of constitutional law, religion and democracy at University of Toronto Faculty of Law, University of London and Harvard. Daniel has served on a community safety panel with the Toronto Police Sex Crimes Unit, and since 2002 he has an advisory role working closely with senior government officials with the Correctional Service of Canada.
Daniel enjoys running and martial arts training. His wife, Esther, works in the healthcare field and they have three adult children – twin daughters and a son. He is an avid Star Trek fan and lover of sweets.
The Rev. Daniel Cho
Please provide some background on your involvement in The Presbyterian Church in Canada.
For the past 14 years I’ve had the pleasure of ministering among the wonderful people of Rexdale Presbyterian Church who come from a rich diversity of backgrounds. Beginning in my seminary days I served for the next 10 years as youth and young adult pastor. Currently, I am Moderator of the Presbytery of West Toronto. On the presbytery level I have chaired and/or served on committees in the areas of multicultural & multigenerational ministry, congregational life, mission, and ministry. I have been involved in both two-party and group mediations in dealing with congregational disputes. On the national level I was Convenor of the Life and Mission Agency Committee. In this capacity I was involved with all departments and participated on Assembly Council. Also as Convenor I have represented the Church on overseas trips to China in the English teaching program, and Japan meeting with denominational partners including those in the Korean Christian Church in Japan. For several years I served on the Committee on Education & Reception, the Dr. E. H. Johnson Memorial Fund Committee, Canadian Ministries Advisory Committee, Synod Grants Committee and a national visioning committee. I have been on search committees for executive staff, General Secretaries, PWS&D Executive Director and Knox College Principal. I was Chair of the Design Team for the Body, Soul and Mind resource made up of representatives from the Committee on Church Doctrine and Justice Ministries. I’ve also led a pre-Assembly workshop on the intercultural church and participated as a panelist on mental health and the church at Knox College.
My current involvements include member of the Knox College Board of Governors (vice chair 2016-2017), Justice Ministries Advisory Committee and the Continuing Education Grants Committee. I’m also excited to be joining Canada Youth 2018 in July as one of two main preachers.
What are your earliest memories of church?
I got into a fisticuffs with another boy when I was 6-years-old! I don’t remember how it started (it was probably because of me) but I do remember how it ended. Another parent broke us up and ordered us to stop fighting. To that, I proudly retorted, “But I’m 6 years old!” as if to make the case that my “ripe” age qualified me to fight. My adversary quickly countered, “Well I’m 6-and-a-half!” For a moment we looked at each other, and to our juvenile minds his answer somehow signaled that he had prevailed in argument! So I turned the other cheek and acquiesced defeat. Today my opponent is a lawyer, and I…well, you know the rest. He was best man at my wedding and we’ve been friends now for nearly half a century!
Another less violent memory I have is walking up to the church with my family one Sunday morning. This sticks out in my mind because I remembered feeling strangely calm and happy in that moment because I knew that being with fellow Koreans back then gave my parents some peace amidst the stress and hardship in those early days as new immigrants who felt like outsiders. Even as a young child it warmed me to know that at least for one day my parents could feel happy and a sense of belonging. (I sure hope these two incidents didn’t happen on the same day!)
What three verses of scripture do you return to over and over and find especially formative?
Isaiah 30:15 (Tanakh version) – For thus said my Lord God, The Holy One of Israel, “You shall triumph by stillness and quiet; Your victory shall come about Through calm and confidence.”
Micah 6:8 – He has told you, O mortal, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?
Matthew 5:1-12 – The Beatitudes
What are your favourite hymns?
Be Thou My Vision, God of Grace and God of Glory, My Jesus I Love Thee (I particularly like the contemporary rendition by the sibling trio, 2nd Chapter of Acts). Also I have to give a plug for my one of my all-time favourite songs which was considered the “anthem of the 80s” in the Christian contemporary music world: We Will Stand, by Russ Taff. It’s a clarion call for Christians to unite as one body and leave divisiveness behind.
What book(s) do you wish everyone in the PCC had or were reading?
I recommend anything from Henri Nouwen but especially three in particular: The Return of the Prodigal Son, Life of the Beloved, and Here and Now: Living in the Spirit. They all speak to living the Christian life in its most authentically vulnerable and spiritually courageous form; also, The Idea of the Holy, by Rudolf Otto; and The Art of Loving, by Erich Fromm.
What are you reading for pleasure these days?
Hopeful Imagination: Prophetic Voices in Exile, by Walter Brueggemann, Encountering God, by Diana Eck, Yes to the Mess: Surprising Leadership Lessons From Jazz, by Frank J. Barrett.
What is your image of the church at its best?
When I was a student in Tulsa I attended a church service where the minister held up a large picture of the face of Jesus. But as he explained, the closer you approached the picture the better you could see that his face was made up of hundreds of smaller faces of ordinary people from every background. I was mesmerized by the collage of the different shapes, sizes and colours of faces weaved together to express Christ. The theological takeaway was that we are all ingrained in the person and life of Jesus and that everyone is affirmed and acknowledged. Each person’s faith is reflected in the life of the church, and the church bears the face of us all. This is the unity of the Gospel message. It also illustrates the deeply personal relationship with God because of the focus on being visible—Jesus truly sees us in the same way he saw the Samaritan woman at the well, the leper and the rich man, that is, beyond status, labels and prejudices. The wounded traveller saw in the face of the Good Samaritan not a cultural enemy but a compassionate friend. Ananias saw the face of Paul not as a destroyer of the church but a Christian brother. When we heed the call to embrace one another truly as sisters and brothers despite those things that (should) separate us then we will begin to understand gospel love.
Who are some of your models in ministry? Why and how did one of these people form your understanding of life and faith?
I had the rare privilege of meeting the late spiritual writer, Henri Nouwen, and being mentored by him before his passing. I was already very familiar with him through his many books. I reached out to him 23 years ago after a particularly difficult period; he warmly welcomed me and graciously gave of his time and counsel. My ministry and faith understanding have been profoundly impacted by his insights on vulnerability, our sense of brokenness, and being inspired to live our belovedness authentically as Jesus himself did. Henri himself never shied away from accepting his own weaknesses and vulnerabilities as he chronicles in his books, and in this way he was a true model of genuine and courageous faithfulness in our calling to love.
I should add that another important role model is my martial arts teacher, Master In Shik Hwang. He is the quintessential wise man and a deeply committed Christian whose unique insights on life and spirituality have helped shape me over the years.
What would you say are the most important features of faithful discipleship?
I love this quote by Richard Rohr: We worshipped Jesus instead of following him on his same path. We made Jesus into a mere religion instead of a journey toward union with God and everything else. This shift made us into a religion of “belonging and believing” instead of a religion of transformation.
Discipleship is walking the path that Christ walked and not simply believing things. Seeing Jesus as “the way” isn’t merely about the end result. It’s also our journey itself which testifies to the truth of our faith—the manner of our travel, our habits, practice, and values all reflect our faith commitment. This speaks to our distinctively Christian witness of love, mercy and kindness. So as disciples we should strive to cultivate the very heart of Jesus and by doing so we will see one another as God sees us and minister in that spirit. This is the transformative message of the Beatitudes.
What would you say is the core calling of the Church today?
The core calling of the Church is to live as community the two-part commandment of Jesus: to love God with all your heart, soul, and mind and to love your neighbour as yourself. The Church is the place where we learn how to become disciples to love, serve, care, give hope, show mercy, act justly in the name of Christ. These commandments remind us that as important as it is that we do Christian deeds, it is equally as important to be and become the people of God so that what we do is an extension and expression of who we are. Otherwise our practices and discipleship efforts are merely ritualistic. We are called to constantly embrace that first love of God and let that love remind us of our beloved identity as we act as change-agents in the world.
What area of public life do you believe the PCC should be more involved in than it currently is?
I can say that our Church engages very well with a broad spectrum of public issues like reconciliation with First Nations peoples, assisted dying, climate change, and so on. And I hope that we will continue to be so engaged in the public sphere. In recent years there has been growing concern regarding the relationship between Church and State and the way matters of faith relate generally with the legal and political system especially in today’s and multicultural and multi-faith society. This is an area we would be wise to give more attention to; not only in terms of what our particular position might be on a variety of issues but more importantly how we should arrive at those conclusions in a discerning manner. It is seldom helpful to react in a knee-jerk fashion as is often the case. The Church can provide a forum for discussion on these important concerns.
Understanding that congregations is a key place where the continuing ministry of Christ is dynamically and dramatically lived out, could you say a bit about what are, in your understanding, the most important features of faithful congregational ministry?
The first thing I would say is that the potential for the local congregation is to be a glimpse of the Kingdom of God where the Beatitudes can be a lived reality. It is a place where the Triune God can be experienced and reflected in the community of believers who practice love, generosity and service. When people “come to church” they are entering an experience where people are seen by their heart and not their outward appearance (1 Sam. 16:7).
Second, in congregational ministry attention should be drawn to the need for less of “me” and more of “us.” Sometimes church can be an avenue for individual pride and self-assertion whether it’s in how devoted one is in worship, how well one may pray, how strong a leader one is or how much service one gives. Faithful ministry reminds us that it acts as a glue to unite and support all of us together. That is where our collective spiritual strength comes from.
Third, the local church can sow a culture that spurs people on to love because of the knowledge of what God has first done for us in Jesus. The more people exercise faith, the better we enable the church to bless others whether it’s through local or global service, spiritual worship, hospitality, Christian education or stewardship. All of these programs engage people in the ministry of Christ and are an extension of people’s desire to act on God’s behalf.
One of the objectives of the PCC’s Strategic Plan is “Visionary Leadership.” What is visionary leadership to you?
This quote by Peter Drucker is a core principle for me: “The task of leadership is to create an alignment of strengths so strong that it makes the system’s weaknesses irrelevant.” It highlights the collective approach to leadership and always envisions the whole rather than a single person.
Combine this with a Christian outlook then, visionary leadership is a humble focus on Christ and his vision for us as the Church to fulfill our mission in the world. By affirming strengths it fosters a spiritual culture of being/relating/serving/giving/building that inspires people to join in that vision. And it calls on people to bring the best of themselves to the service of leadership so that the best future can be discerned for the whole body to the glory of God. Visionary leadership leads to trust in one another on the journey and fervent hope in God.
One of the goals of the Strategic Plan is to pursue spiritual renewal and faith formation as the basis for transformation within congregations. What does pursuing spiritual renewal look like for you personally and what could it look like for the denomination corporately?
I have always regarded spiritual renewal as a constant cultivating of one’s capacity for love and faith commitment. The ministry of Jesus is all about the challenge to enlarge this capacity to the point where it doesn’t seem to make sense, for instance loving one’s enemy, unlimited forgiveness, “judging” oneself before judging others, so on. But this is the path that we are called to walk nonetheless. This kind of faith is transformative faith and its implications for our relationship with others and how we are to live in this world are exciting and profound.
The Church—both local and national—is the body in and through which we can cultivate the spiritual life. That is what all our activities set out to do—everything from worship and prayer to acts of stewardship and mission. When these are done faithfully and consistently it moulds our minds and spirits into that of Christ, allows us to touch people’s lives in the name of Christ and empowers us to fulfill his great commandments.
What do you see as the role of the Moderator during the time we are discerning the mind of Christ regarding sexuality and the church?
The role of the Moderator essentially is to guide order, encourage an open and safe space for all members of the Church, and ensure sober, reflective dialogue. There is passion around this issue of sexuality and so it is the Moderator’s responsibility to maintain a climate that is respectful and a process that is orderly. We are one body of spiritual discernment grappling with a difficult issue. We would do well to keep this in mind so that the debate is not framed in categories of “us” and “them” as is often tempting to do. It will be important for the Moderator to constantly represent the value of Christian unity and resolution for our Church throughout this period of discernment.
Who are some of your most treasured Christian thinkers and writers?
Henri Nouwen, Jean Vanier, Gustavo Gutiérrez, Martin Luther King, Jr.
What should the Church make more time for?
We need to involve the younger generation more. Their faith is passionate and their commitment is serious. They have much to offer as fellow church members who participate in the life of the congregation. Their opinions about the Church and for the Church should matter and we can benefit from the kind of keen insight and particular wisdom they’re able to bring. More time and opportunity should be given for their voices. We can be creative in how we can provide this forum at all levels of the Church.
Where do you see signs of hope for the world and the Church?
I see three signs:
- I am encouraged when people “bridge the divide” and connect on a genuine human level and “love one another” despite our faults, wounds and prejudices. This isn’t always easy but it’s what Christians are called to do to foster Kingdom values. There’s a saying along the lines of: “It’s easy to love the whole world; it’s my next-door neighbour I can’t stand!” Somehow I think Jesus knew how tough dealing with people can be. And yet our challenge is to always look into the face of our neighbours both near and far and behold them with the heart of God. This is the motive for all our mission.
- I am encouraged when people are faithful to the call of God in their personal lives not for any reward or benefit. They are just compelled to follow Jesus’ commandment of love and service. It’s as simple as that, and it can change the world.
- I am encouraged by the youth. In an increasingly complex world that demands their time and attention in so many directions young women and men have chosen the path of Christ. They are our future and the Church would be wise to harness their passion, ideas and vision as we all seek to learn from each other in these challenging times.
With these signs we as the people of God can have hope for tomorrow.