In their sesquicentennial year, The Falls Church Presbyterian has recently welcomed their first female pastor, Reverend Yena Hwang, who is also the first woman of color leading the church.
She began her term as a transitional pastor on May 16 and has received positive feedback from church members who praised her warmth, outgoing personality and constant smile.
“It’s delightful to have a youthful, exciting, vibrant person like Yena in our leadership role now,” church member Chuck Hobbie said. “We expect her to be a great leader in this transition period for us.”
Growing up in a small, immigrant church in Maryland, Hwang said being involved in “various church leadership roles” such as a Sunday school teacher and youth minister inspired her to seek out opportunities that she could be involved “in the life of church.”
“I had not seen any female ministers at that point, let alone a Korean-American female [minister],” Hwang said. “Representation matters, so I felt really called into ordained ministry so that others could see female ministers doing all the things that ministers do.”
Hobbie, who has been a member of the church for almost 40 years, was the head of the five member team that interviewed applicants for the transitional pastor position after their former pastor James Sledge retired this January. After being impressed with Hwang’s “enthusiasm” and “candor,” Hwang was chosen to be the church’s transitional pastor.
“She’s very straightforward and direct talking with you,” Hobbie said. “She’s very honest about your weaknesses and your strengths, and the obstacles that you are expected to overcome.”
The church’s Clerk of Sessions Carolyn Bruce repeated the same sentiments as Hobbie, as she was also on the committee that chose Hwang. Bruce said Hwang’s genuineness came across “pretty quickly” during the interview process, as well as her training with the International Coach Federation (ICF), which works with individuals, church leaders and organizations.
“A lot of times when a church goes through a pastor leaving, it can be a sort of a more turbulent time where things aren’t always as smooth,” Bruce said. “I thought one of the things she could [do was] bring connections to different groups in the church.”
Since starting her role as transitional pastor, Hwang said she has been “really busy,” but her favorite part so far has been “getting back in the pulpit” to lead worship every Sunday, as well as getting to know church members with one-on-one meetings.
Bruce said the reaction from church members toward Hwang have been “positive,” with a lot of people commenting on how her first sermon tied older scriptures to more modern, relatable aspects such as Amazon Prime.
“She can take a topic that may not be super happy and make it more positive,” Bruce said. “I think that people need positivity now more than ever.”
In order for her to “bring the Bible alive in 2023,” Hwang said incorporating both modern themes and the coaching skills she has learned through ICF is “relevant” in each church member’s life. She hopes that by the end of her term as the church’s transitional pastor, she will help the congregation “see their strengths and their resourcefulness.”
“It’s really helping them recognize that these are things that you possess, these are your assets and these are your gifts,” Hwang said. “If they call a pastor that can help them accomplish what they want to do as a church in the world, then I have done my job.”