Juyoung Lee: Pulled Toward Ministry

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Juyoung Lee is a Master of Divinity student at Dio who began his studies in January of 2023.

As a young teenager, Juyoung Lee made up his mind that he would not work in a Christian field when he grew up. An undergraduate degree, and a brief stint in the business sector later, he is a student at Dio moving towards ordination in the United Church of Canada.

Juyoung grew up in Seoul, South Korea where he regularly attended a conservative evangelical church with his family. “I don’t want to depict that experience only badly,” he says. “But when I became a teenager, I started to see things in the church that did not feel right to me. So I made up my mind that I will not work in a Christian field when I grow up.” During his later teen years, he went to a Christian school that taught Peace Studies in the demilitarized zone between North and South Korea. There he encountered a variety of denominational perspectives. “The school was founded by a Quaker and a Presbyterian minister,” he explains. “An Anglican clergy person taught spirituality and I lived with a Mennonite couple from Canada who also taught me a lot that was different from what I had grown up with.” While he did not finish high school thinking he would one day become a minister, the ecumenical environment had begun to shift his perspective on Christianity.

Despite his attempts to do otherwise, Juyoung found himself drawn into the church and the field of theology time and again. When it was time to apply for universities, he failed to get into the Social Sciences program he was aiming for and ended up pursuing a degree in Theology as his second choice. At another point in his life, he made a foray into the business side of the music industry but was ultimately left unfulfilled by the work and found himself struggling to make meaningful connections with people in the business sector. As he reflects back on his early educational pursuits, he says “I think I would have become a very skeptical person had I studied philosophy or social science like I wanted to. I found hope in my life while studying theology, and coming to that realization was a turning point.”

His desire to work in ministry was kindled in 2019 when he attended St. Andrew’s College in Saskatoon as an exchange student. “It’s a United Church theological college,” he explains. “I didn’t know what the United Church was before I went there but because I had so many experiences with different denominations, it felt like the perfect denomination for me”. It was through a combination of encouragement from faculty, conversations with Korean clergy in the United Church, and an internal nagging feeling that there was nothing else he could possibly do, that he decided he would become a pastor.

Juyoung finally ended up at Dio January of 2023 on the recommendation of a faculty member at St. Andrew’s College. “I really appreciate how deeply we engage with Scripture at Dio,” he says. “The transition from engaging with Scripture academically to applying it practically is very smooth and that is such an asset to future ministry.” He is looking forward to eventually being an ordained minister in the United Church of Canada. “I will minister where God sends me and where I am needed. It could be a form of church that I know, or it could be a form I’ve never imagined before. The church is at a point of watershed after Covid and I want to contribute myself into this time of change.”