Tribute to 1st UTS President, Dr. David S.C. Kim, 1915-2011

President Kim and Mrs. Kim at UTS in the mid-1990s.President Kim and Mrs. Kim at UTS in the mid-1990s.It is a tremendous honor to offer a testimony to President David S.C. Kim. Mine will be from three perspectives: first as a student in the Seminary’s first class between 1975-77 and as graduate student sent on to obtain a Ph.D.; second as a faculty member who served under President Kim from 1989-94 during the final years of his UTS Presidency; and third, as a Unification Church historian who has studied and written about his life and work.

As a student in the Seminary’s first class, I was what President Kim liked to call a “green onion,” young in the faith and inexperienced. Of course, UTS also was young and during the first year no one was quite sure whether the new experiment, the first school founded by Rev. Moon, was going to work. President Kim, himself, was often away during the first year, so it was pretty much 50 new students, Dean Stewart, and the “outside” professors. Between its first and second years, UTS was caught up in Yankee Stadium and Washington Monument campaigns. Then there were theologians conferences, the deprogramming crisis (two members of my class were kidnapped off the Seminary grounds), and carp fishing campaigns in Tivoli Bay off the Hudson River initiated by our Founder. The Seminary’s second year passed in a whirl of activity, and I hadn’t gotten much acquainted with President Kim. However, That began to change when I continued graduate studies in the San Francisco Bay Area. There, I met members of President Kim’s family: Mr. Sung Soo Kim at International Exchange Press which he ran in San Francisco, Young Soo at a Fish and Aquarium store he ran in Oakland, and I played a fair amount of tennis with Joon Soo in Berkeley (he usually won). Although the late 1970s was still a crazy time in our church’s history and although President Kim’s sons had endured extended separations from their parents, I was impressed by how normal and real they were. I very much enjoyed their company. This also enabled me to relate more informally with President Kim when he passed through the Bay Area. He took an interest in my activity and offered me counsel.

The most memorable experience I had with him while a student was when I completed my doctoral studies. President Kim made it his practice to attend each one of the Seminary’s Ph.D. students’ graduations, and there were thirty-six of us. On the day of my graduation, he got up early, drove across the San Francisco Bay Bridge, and as a 74-75 year old, climbed to the top of Twin Peaks, the first Holy Ground established by Rev. Moon in America, where he prayed for my future. I only learned of this at a celebration luncheon following my graduation ceremony when he presented me with a rock taken from the top with my name inscribed upon it. That rock remains upon my bookshelf to this day as a source of inspiration.

I returned to UTS in 1989 and worked under President Kim as an Assistant Professor of Church History until his retirement in 1994. I noticed right away that things had changed from when I left in 1977. The major change was that in the intervening years President Kim had placed his stamp indelibly upon the Seminary. There were traditions, all manner of plaques, sport competitions and speech contests, calligraphy, annual tree-plantings, annual carp fishing (at least until the Environmental Protection Agency banned such activity in Tivoli Bay), and much more. But most of all, there was community. I realized this came from President Kim and began to appreciate him more deeply as a spiritual leader. He had a presence that can only be referred to as charismatic. Spirituality was never a chore with President Kim. He had the ability to make any occasion an event. Seminarians not only roused themselves for 5 a.m. Sunday Pledge services but stayed up long afterwards for “morning walks” with President Kim. His “Morning Briefs,” later called “Kingdom-Building Sessions,” after weekday 6 a.m. chapel services were legendary. Some students may have checked their watches, wondering whether they’d be able to make it to breakfast before eight o’clock classes, but most lost track of time entirely. Likewise, President Kim’s “Kitchen Cabinet” meetings for staff and faculty were free-wheeling affairs that could go anywhere. If the chairs in the Faculty Dining Room had seat belts, we would have strapped ourselves in.

Of course, not everything was perfect. In those days, UTS had “management issues.” President Kim had a particular liking for mavericks and misfits, folks who didn’t fit in easily elsewhere in the movement. When I returned to UTS, there were more than a hundred students and more than a hundred staff, essentially one staff member for every student. Everything was communal. Families did their weekly shopping in the Seminary kitchen’s walk-in refrigerator. The library was open twenty-four hours a day; the laundry room was free with giant barrels of free detergent; UTS ran a fleet of vehicles and operated five day-care centers to take care of staff and faculty children. The Seminary also incorporated a business subsidiary which was profitable for several years but eventually over-extended itself and ran up huge operating deficits. The same subsidiary accumulated land and property holdings throughout the Mid-Hudson Valley in line with President Kim’s vision of restoring the “Seven Churches of Asia” mentioned in the Book of Revelation. Unfortunately, with a housing market collapse in the early 1990s these also were at risk. In short, it was hell and heaven wrapped up into one. Only President Kim was able to hold it all together. UTS has professionalized since then. It began doing so prior to President Kim’s retirement. Still, it was a wonderful era, and I miss it terribly.

Finally, as a Unification Church historian who has studied and written about President Kim’s life and work, there is far more than can be covered in this brief testimony. In general, President Kim leaves behind a triple legacy. First, he is the father of the Unification Movement’s inter-religious work. Prior to joining the movement, he dreamed of uniting all Christian and Buddhist denominations. On coming to America, he organized his group as a United Faith Movement, United Faith, Inc. This dream blossomed at UTS where President Kim spearheaded theologians’ conferences and what he termed “academic ecumenism.” UTS was the seedbed of the Global Congress of the World’s Religions, the New Ecumenical Research Association (New ERA), the International Religious Foundation, the Religious Youth Service and the Assembly of the World’s Religions. Others picked up the mantle and later organizations such as the International and Interreligious Federation for World Peace (IIFWP) and the Universal Peace Federation (UPF) derive from initiatives begun under the leadership of President Kim at UTS.

Second, President Kim is the father of the Unification Movement’s foreign missions. On converting to the Church in 1954, he was told by God that he “will be going overseas for pioneer missionary work.” Shortly thereafter, be became the Unification Church’s first overseas missionary, going to Great Britain in August of that year. In 1959, he became the second church missionary to the United States, working here for fifty-two years. At his 90th birthday celebration in 2005, President Kim said his leadership style was “to figure out what Rev. Moon wanted ahead of time.” He said he was “not a leader waiting for instruction” because then it was “too late.” He advised others to “be thinking leaders, not blindly-following leaders.” In spite of numerous obstacles he faced in the mission field, this was a key to his freshness and what he called his “Unification optimism.”

Third, and this may come as a surprise to some, President Kim is the father of Unification Church historians and church history. Others had produced oral or written testimonies, but no one produced a systemic, sustained history prior to President Kim. His monumental three-volume Day of Hope books, published between 1973 and 1982, chronicle the first decade of Rev. Moon’s work in America. The volumes are impressively balanced, including both critical and positive commentary and they were a major influence on me in deciding to focus my research on Unification history. President Kim continued his interest in Unification history and over the years collected one of the most extensive personal archives in the movement. Sifting through it undoubtedly will provide hours of fascination and instruction to future historians.

President Kim was a person who remembered. Anyone who ever attended one of his birthday celebrations in any number of Chinese restaurants knows he remembered the deceased. He also remembered the living. Members and children of members were pleased to receive birthday and holiday cards, often with a twenty-dollar bill tucked inside. He remembered to collect napkins, placemats and programs from all manner of providential events for his archives. For those whose who have been to H-K House where he lived, he may have remembered too much. There are remembrances stacked all over. But in this, he revealed something of God’s heart, that everything, even things we might consider trivial, is important and precious. And in this, as in so many other ways, we will remember our beloved President David S.C. Kim.

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