Pastor Yang moves to McKownville church

Enterprise file photo — Michael Koff

Pastor “Charlie” Yang led prayers and carols every Christmas as the tree was lit in Voorheesville’s park. He came to the Voorheesville United Methodist Church in 2009 and this summer will leave to be the pastor of the McKownville church in Guilderland, replacing Rev. Stephen Butler, who is retiring.

VOORHEESVILLE — Pastor “Charlie” Yang will leave the First United Methodist Church of Voorheesville in June, to take the pastoral position at McKownville United Methodist Church in July.

Yang, whose given name is Cheol-Hee, will serve McKownville in the wake of Rev. Stephen Butler’s retirement. Pastor Robert DeFelice, who has served in Schenectady, will replace Yang in Voorheesville.

The changes come after Bishop Mark Webb met with the 12 district superintendents of the Upper New York Annual (Regional) Conference to discuss and decide pastoral appointments, Yang told The Enterprise. The Albany district has 75 churches, and, every year, a number of ministers in each district retire, Yang said.

Yang was appointed to Voorheesville in 2009. He said this week that his work will be similar in scope for McKownville; each church needs leadership for Sunday services, and each provides outreach programs.

“Church people are doing…ministries,” he said.

His tasks in McKownville, he said, will be “basically, pretty much what I do” in Voorheesville. The congregation, itself, is only slightly larger, he said. The difference between them is the setting, he said.

“Voorheesville is more separated from the greater Albany area. McKownville can reach out to more people. Western Avenue is one of the biggest roads [in Guilderland],” he said.

McKownville will be welcoming a preacher who grew up in a plural religious society.  “I was surrounded by Buddhism, Shamanism, even atheists,” said Yang earlier about his Korean upbringing.  “We were religiously different, but still friends.”

Born to a farm family in the countryside of South Korea, Yang was one of six children, he said.

“My family was the only Christian family,” he said, guessing there were about 100 households in the rural community.

It wasn’t always that way, though.  His older brother, by 13 years, went to Christian mission school and was encouraged by his chaplain to go to church.

“My father tried to stop him,” Yang said, explaining, “People thought it was against Confucianism.  My brother was determined to go to church.”

Eventually, his father came to Christianity and as it ended up, Yang said, “He was quite devoted.”

Five of his six brothers are preachers and the other is a carpenter. In high school, Yang decided to pursue religion, he said, and attended seminary after graduating. 

Having been ordained in Korea after studying theology there, Yang came to the United States to pursue a Ph.D., attending Southern Methodist University, Princeton Theological Seminary, and a Boston seminary.  He briefly considered staying in academia, but, he said, “My heart is in preaching...I love preaching.”

Village church

“I have been blessed by this congregation so much,” Yang said this week. “Age-wise, it is well-balanced. Five years ago, it was predominantly elderly people.” Now, he said, new, younger families have joined the church.

“Our church is well-balanced. We have grown quite noticeably. I believe the Voorheesville church is a happy church, [with] a lot of ministries,” Yang said. He gave an example of First United Methodist’s involvement with local ministries, noting that the church participates in the Crop Walk for Hunger each year.

This year, there were 22 participants from his congregation, he said.

“We raised more than $2,000. That is one of my examples of our church’s trying to be a church to the people,” Yang said. “Compared with mega-churches, our church is small. We are a vital church.”

His congregation is excited to have a new pastor, he said. His own experience in Voorheesville has been positive, he said.

“This is a very welcoming and very friendly congregation,” he said. “As a pastor who is not white, who is appointed to a predominantly white congregation, my anxiety was bigger than other pastors’.  I felt I have [been] well accepted, and this congregation…I will miss this congregation. This congregation is one of the best.”

Yang will preach his final sermon in Voorheesville on June 22, and begin in McKownville on July 6. Yang and his family will move from the Voorheesville parsonage into their own home, as the McKownville church does not provide a parsonage, he said.

The move will not affect his son, who is in college, he said. His daughter, finishing her junior year at Clayton A. Bouton High School, will remain in the Voorheesville schools next year, Yang said.

“I think that is a good arrangement for our family,” Yang said.

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