Student Stories

Field Education During a Pandemic: Using Technology to Reach the Parishioners

Han Lee
Rev. Han Lee

Yorkville United Methodist Church in Union Grove, Wisconsin

Yorkville United Methodist Church has been in existence since 1842, even before Wisconsin was a state. Located in a rural, farming community, the primarily white congregation is made up of about 200 members of all ages.

According to Rev. Sue Leih, who has served the church for 11 years, the congregation is mission oriented, hospitality oriented, and music oriented. “The congregation would say it is mostly music oriented with its five choirs,” Leih said, “but I would say that hospitality is the congregation’s number one gift as they make it their mission to ‘Share God’s Love.’”

That hospitality was clearly seen in the fall of 2019 when Rev. Han Lee started his field education placement there. Lee, who was first ordained in Seoul, South Korea, wanted a field education placement where he could immerse himself in American culture. Eager to learn about his culture as well, the congregation embraced him. “This placement was a gift for both the congregation and Han,” said Leih.

Lee first came to the United States from South Korea in 2003 as an undergraduate at Arizona State University. He returned to South Korea after graduation in 2008 to attend seminary at Methodist Theological University in Seoul. He graduated in 2015 and was ordained in 2018. During his three-year ordination process, Lee served a mega-church in Seoul, got married, and decided to attend seminary in the United States.

He and his wife, Myungsu Kim, chose Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary. Lee enrolled in Garrett-Evangelical’s master of divinity program as well as its master of theological studies program, and Kim enrolled in its master of arts in pastoral care and counseling program. They both started in the fall of 2018.

The following fall, Lee started his field education at Yorkville United Methodist Church, about an hour-and-half drive from Evanston. As was typical for student pastors, he led worship, gave sermons and children’s sermons, and supported the youth group. Lee and Kim attended church events and even went on a hayride with the youth in October. The experience was exactly what Lee had hoped for.

“The congregation really welcomed my wife and me,” Lee said. “I loved how we could talk about everything and how the church events really brought the community together.”

A few months later, COVID-19 hit, and in-person services stopped abruptly. Initially, Lee teamed up with Leih’s husband, Tom, an IT professional, and the two created recorded virtual church services and used their computer skills to edit the videos. They then turned their attention to live streaming the worship services via Facebook. “Han’s technical knowledge helped us immensely,” Leih said.

“As a young person who understands technology and media, I really wanted to help the church in the midst of COVID-19,” Lee said.

At first, Lee said, it was difficult to maintain relationships without the face-to-face contact. “While I was familiar with the different media, most of the church members were not,” he said. But as the months passed, more and more people began watching the services online, thanks to Lee.

In October 2020, about a third of the congregation went back to worshipping in person in accordance with Wisconsin COVID-19 guidelines. Leih said she expects to continue live streaming the weekly services because of their popularity. Before COVID-19, an average of 110 people attended church each week. Now, more than 200 people tune in online, Leih said. “That is in addition to the people who are currently worshiping in person,” she continued.

“Thanks to Han, we have reached more people than we imagined,” Leih said. “When all is said and done, I’ve probably learned more from Han than he has from me.”