The United Methodist Church has commissioned the first group of Korean American "mission pastors"--including eight Southland ministers--to help developing congregations officially become part of the denomination.
Since 1981, the rapid growth of Korean American congregations has accounted for half of the new churches entering the United Methodist fold. Korean American Methodist churches number nearly 300 nationwide.
The category of mission pastor was developed by the New York-based United Methodist Board of Global Ministries after the denomination's 1996 convention rejected the creation of a separate jurisdiction for Korean American clergy and churches. Most Methodist leaders prefer to integrate ethnic and racial congregations within the geographic jurisdictions.
"Korean Americans [in the church] see this as a major step forward," said the Rev. John McCullough, associate general secretary for mission personnel.
The Southland ministers among the first 34 clergy appointed to three-year terms as mission pastors are the Revs. Myung Hwan Cho of Reseda, Chul Jung of Gardena, Ji Tai Kim of Riverside, Jin Mo Koo of Garden Grove, Joseph Won-Moon Lee of Burbank, Peter Chang-Hyung Park of Los Angeles, Yong Sam Park of Vista and Paul Suk-Yong Yang of Los Angeles.
The plan calls for an eventual 40 pastors and five superintendents in the first mission group.
Jesuit Father Thomas Reese, a Los Angeles native, has been named editor in chief of America magazine, the influential Catholic weekly run by the religious order. Reese, 53, is one of the most widely quoted sources today on news developments in Catholicism and at the Vatican.
Still attached to the California province of the Jesuits, Reese has been based in recent years at Georgetown University and has been the magazine's Washington correspondent since 1985.
* Donald E. Travis, a member of Good Shepherd Presbyterian Church in Los Alamitos, has been elected to a two-year term as president of the National Council of Presbyterian Men, the laymen's body of the Louisville, Ky.-based denomination. Travis is a former moderator of the Los Ranchos Presbytery, which embraces congregations from East Los Angeles to San Clemente.
* Rafael Vega, director of campus ministry at Providence High School in Burbank, has been named by Cardinal Roger M. Mahony to chair the Catholic archdiocese's Justice and Peace Commission. Vega, a commission member since last year, succeeds Joan Harper, who had served two years in the post.
Graduation exercises of Southland seminaries and religious colleges include the following:
* For the first time in 69 years, Mt. St. Mary's College will hold its commencement ceremony away from its Brentwood campus--taking the rites to the Shrine Auditorium at 7 p.m. Monday in order to relieve traffic congestion around the hillside college. Alice Bourke Hayes, president of the University of San Diego, will address the nearly 600 degree-earning students and herself receive an honorary doctor of humane letters degree.
* Steven F. Windmueller, director of Hebrew Union College's Irwin Daniels School of Jewish Communal Service, will speak at the college's graduation ceremony at 3 p.m. Monday. Honorary doctorates will be given to philanthropist-community leader Dorothy Corwin and Maurice Stanley Friedman, professor emeritus of religion at San Diego State University.
* The Claremont School of Theology, which by tradition does not confer honorary degrees or feature a commencement address, will award graduate degrees to 68 students in a ceremony next Saturday at 9 a.m. on the Kresge Chapel Green.
Pacific Homes, formerly affiliated with the United Methodist Church, and California Lutheran Homes have agreed to merge into what company officials said will be the largest not-for-profit provider of retirement residences and skilled nursing facilities in Southern California. Pacific Homes, which went bankrupt in 1978, emerged in 1981 essentially free of church ties.
The two organizations together own and operate a dozen senior citizen facilities, all but one in the Southland, and have a combined annual revenue close to $1 million. The two groups created a venture in 1995 to manage six low-cost housing facilities.
Robert Chillison and Hewes Bell, board chairmen respectively for California Lutheran Homes and Pacific Homes, said in a joint statement that they hoped to complete the merger by the end of this year.
Attorney-television commentator Hugh Hewitt of Irvine, whose "Searching for God in America" about the country's religious varieties, was published in 1996, now writes from a traditional Christian viewpoint in "The Embarrassed Believer, Reviving Christian Witness in an Age of Unbelief" (Word Publishing).
* Dallas Willard, who has taught philosophy and ethics at USC since the 1960s, is also an unapologetic evangelical author who often speaks at Christian conferences. In his latest book, "The Divine Conspiracy" (Harper San Francisco), Willard calls Jesus "the smartest man that ever lived" and one whose teachings speak to everyday morality as well as to the hereafter.
Marking what it terms the 50th anniversary of the occupation of Palestine, the Southern California chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations will hold a conference next Saturday in Buena Park with Republican former Rep. Paul Findley of Illinois, author of "They Dare to Speak Out," giving the main address. The dinner conference, which will start at 5 p.m., will be at the Sequoia Conference Center, 7530 Orangethorpe Ave. (714) 776-1847.
* Author-pastor Forrest Church, minister of All Souls Church of New York, will open the Unitarians' Pacific Southwest District conference with a keynote address at 8 p.m. Friday at the Unitarian Universalist Church of Long Beach, 5450 Atherton St. The annual meeting will include a 9:15 a.m. workshop by Church based on his recent book, "Teaching Life Lines." The conference ends May 17 with a worship service at 10:30 a.m.
* New Testament scholar James M. Robinson of Claremont, the director of an international project studying what biblical scholars term the Q sayings--a group of passages that some scholars theorize forms the basis for the Gospels' Sermon on the Mount--will speak on the "real Jesus" that emerges from that source in a 2 p.m. lecture Monday at UC Riverside. The free talk, at the building designated HMNSS 1500, is sponsored by the religious studies and history departments.
* Entertainment Fellowship, a 3,000-member organization encouraging career people in Hollywood to apply Judeo-Christian principles to their work, will hold its third annual, daylong spiritual retreat May 23 at the Claretian Renewal Center, 1119 Westchester Place, Los Angeles. Though the event is being held at a Catholic facility with Catholic clergy as speakers, fellowship President Robert Hanley said people of all faiths are welcome. $45 for nonmembers. (818) 909-0841.
* Broadway singers Carol Lawrence and Grover Dale will perform at the 11 a.m. service Sunday at the Los Angeles Church of Religious Science, which meets at the Wilshire Theatre, 8440 Wilshire Blvd. (213) 852-9055.
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Vesak, the birthday celebration of Gautama Buddha, who was born about 2,500 years ago, will be observed Sunday by Buddhists of various national traditions.
The 18th annual joint observance by nine different national groups will be held at 10 a.m. at the Dharma Vijaya Buddhist Vihara, a Sri Lankan temple at 1847 Crenshaw Blvd., Los Angeles. Sponsored by the Buddhist Sangha Council of Southern California, the celebration will feature chanting in different languages and styles. (213) 737-5084.
Festivities at the Rosemead Buddhist Monastery will last from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Sunday and Monday. Vesak is usually celebrated close to May's full moon, which is Monday this year. The Venerable Chao Chu, president of the facility, said that vegetarian food, lectures and an exhibit of art and relics will be presented at the monastery, 7833 Emerson Place, Rosemead. (626) 280-1213.