Syngman Rhee (Presbyterian minister)

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Syngman Rhee is a Presbyterian minister who has served as the Moderator of the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (USA) in 2000.[1]

Rhee and a younger brother fled North Korea in 1950,[1] leaving behind his mother and four sisters. His family was hoping they would return in two or three weeks. Rhee's father had been a Christian minister and died in prison under the communists.[1] For Rhee, it turned into decades of separation, finally ended in 1978.

As a refugee in South Korea, Rhee recalls that

"Church World Service came with food, blankets, most of all hope in the hopeless situation for the people who were struggling. The ministry of compassion touched me very, very deeply. That's one of the reasons why I was very active in National Council of Churches and Church World Service."

Rhee joined the Republic of Korea Marine Corps and in 1953 was sent to the United States for special training at the U.S. Marine School in Quantico, Virginia. He says he struck up close friendships with Christian Marine officers and that they continued to correspond after he went back to South Korea.

His friends from Quantico sponsored him as a student at Davis and Elkins College in West Virginia, where Rhee majored in English and religion. From there, he went to Louisville Presbyterian Theological Seminary, graduating in 1960. He was ordained in Louisville and a week later married to Haesun Rhee, a long-time friend and medical doctor in South Korea.

Rhee's first call was to serve two small congregations near Louisville. "That was a wonderful experience for me," he said. "I found what it means to be one in Jesus Christ."

Rhee next served for 13 years as Presbyterian campus minister at the University of Louisville. He began his campus ministry in the early 1960s and recalls that Martin Luther King made several visits to the campus. "I remember marching with him and the black students in Louisville," Rhee said. "That experience taught me what it is to be engaged in the ministry of racial justice."

In 1978, Rhee left the University of Louisville and to become coordinator for Middle East Missions for what was then the United Presbyterian Church. He was with that agency for seven years.

Rhee now teaches at Union Presbyterian Seminary in Richmond, Virginia.


  1. ^ a b c Kennedy, Kathryn (2010-05-23). "Korean pastor says people, nations can reconcile". The Daily Reflector. Retrieved 5 June 2010. [dead link]
Religious titles
Preceded by
Elder Freda Gardner
Moderator of the 212th General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (USA)
Succeeded by
The Rev. Dr. Jack Rogers