Southern Prairie District welcomes Rev. Dr. Woojae Im as superintendent

June 29, 2023

By: Christa Meland

Does God really exist? At age 13, Rev. Dr. Woojae Im couldn’t stop pondering that question. He’d been baptized and gone through Vacation Bible School at his church in Korea, but he wasn’t sure he believed. When he learned that a classmate was wrestling with the same question, the two decided to lean into their curiosity by going to church every day for six months and praying together.

About three months in, the friend decided he was done—but Im continued. One night, he came home feeling empty and knelt down to pray in his bedroom, vowing that it would be his last prayer and he'd leave the church if nothing happened.
“All of a sudden, my heart was so in peace with God,” Im said. “I felt like I didn’t need that proof anymore. I can believe in God.” John 3:16 became real to him, as though he was hearing it for the very first time. Not long after, Im decided to become a pastor.
It’s a decision that he’s never regretted. Im came to the U.S. when his Korean church sent him to Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary in Evanston, Illinois, and he’s been living in this country ever since. After spending 19 years pastoring three churches in the Minnesota Conference, Im will become Southern Prairie District superintendent on July 1, succeeding Rev. Dr. Fred Vanderwerf, who is transitioning to the role of clergy assistant to the bishop for transitions and development.
“We live in a unique era after the pandemic and disaffiliations,” said Im, who has been at Church of Peace in Richfield since 2018. “I want to be a pastor for pastors. They need someone who understands them and their stress. I’m very excited to be on a journey with my colleagues.”

Within the Minnesota Conference, Im has served as a member of the Transitional Table, the Administrative Review Team, the Elected Leader Team, and the Twin Cities Strategy Team. He is also a 2020 General and Jurisdictional Conference delegate. He has two master’s degrees and a doctoral degree, and he completed Dakota Wesleyan University’s Practical Church Leadership Program last year.

Im strongly believes in the importance of spiritual disciplines. He has especially appreciated Disciple Bible Study, the Walk to Emmaus that he participated in this spring, and a two-year academy for spiritual formation that he completed in 2007. He’s a spiritual director certified by the General Board of Higher Education and Ministry, as well as a certified health coach.

At Bishop Lanette Plambeck's meet-and-greet in the Southern Prairie District in February, she and Rev. Dr. Fred Vanderwerf (middle, outgoing district superintendent) prayed over Rev. Dr. Woojae Im (left) as he was preparing for his new appointment.

As Im has prepared himself for superintendency, the scripture that has spoken to him is 3 John 1: 2: “Beloved, I pray that all may go well with you and that you may be in good health, just as it is well with your soul.” He firmly believes that the physical and spiritual well-being of pastoral leaders is connected with the vitality of the churches they lead—and he wants to help and encourage clergy to make themselves a priority.

In clergy one-on-ones in his district, Im will use a spiritual pyramid designed by Bishop Sally Dyck, who was Minnesota’s resident bishop from 2004-2012, encouraging each pastor to focus on developing their practices in an area of their choosing.
He pointed out that physical health was of importance to John Wesley—who traveled 20 miles a day on horseback, the equivalent of running 2.5 hours on a treadmill. At a time when the average lifespan was 42 years old, Wesley lived to be 88. Im’s takeaway: “We cannot take away Methodist spirituality from physical well-being.”
Im has identified four focus areas for the Southern Prairie District in the coming years:
1. path to discipleship
2. connection/collaboration/teams
3. diversity, equity, and inclusion (including cross-racial, cross-cultural opportunities)
4. Fresh Expressions/church planting

During this challenging time in The United Methodist Church, Im is excited to be part of the Minnesota Conference and to journey into a hope-filled future.
“The Minnesota Annual Conference is open to the voices of the marginalized,” he said. “We still have work to do, but we have that spirit of inclusion and welcoming as a foundation. That’s not teachable.”
His greatest hopes for the Minnesota Conference as he looks ahead: fullness of personal piety and social holiness (love God and love neighbor), inclusion of all people, achieving the conference’s four values, innovation in ministry, collaboration, connection, and unity.

Family: Wife, Kyeongmee Oh (an elementary school teacher); 23-year-old son, Sanghyeok “Nick” Im (senior at University of Wisconsin—Madison majoring in biology and hoping to be a pharmacist); and a 13.5-year-old dachshund 
Favorite scripture: John 3:16
Gifts cited by colleagues: Strategic, pastoral, teaching, resilient, creative, persistent, open-minded
StrengthsFinder strengths: Strategic, maximizer, activator, responsibility, command
Favorite book: “Feed my Shepherds: Spiritual Healing and Renewal for Thoose in Christian Leadership” by Flora Slosson Wuellner
Favorite movies: “Dead Man Walking” and “Saving Private Ryan”
Hobbies: Camping, gym workouts, hiking, swimming, traveling
Favorite food: Kentucky Fried Chicken and sushi
People he admires: His dad, John Wesley, and Admiral Sun-Sin Yi
Something interesting most people don’t know: His wife has never once been sick in her 53 years of life.

Christa Meland is director of communications for the Minnesota Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church.

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