Pastor James Yan believes that music is an integral part of the spiritual journey. DON RICKERS

Reverend James Yang started duties in January

Pastor James Yang didn’t know much about small-town life before he came to Pelham.

“I was at a Celebration Presbyterian Church in Markham for about six years, and before that I was in Montreal, serving with a Korean United Church, and was active with urban youth ministry as far back as 2009,” he told the Voice.

Growing up in Etobicoke, Yang studied psychology at York University, and went on to earn a Master of Divinity degree at Tyndale Seminary in Toronto.

His upbringing in Toronto, and his early postings in the church, ministering in an urban context, made him a stereotypical city boy, said Yang.

Joining the ministry was something he had been contemplating for quite some time.

“While at York, I was thinking that I wanted to serve the Lord somehow. During my last year of university, I felt a sense of calling, so I decided to go to Bible college to figure it out. My years in the seminary confirmed my feelings, and I’ve been following that path ever since.”

Yang said that he had a sense in his last year of service to the Markham church, where he was the associate minister, that “I wanted to get outside the normal, to try something new, outside the box. I had also mostly been involved with Korean and Asian congregations — my last church was predominantly Canadian-born Chinese folks — so I yearned for something a little bit more diverse.”

So why Pelham, given that its demographics are far from what many would term diverse.

“There’s an energy here, a sense of need, a desire to grow,” said Yang, reflecting on his interview with the Kirk parish council. “My sense was we shared the same line of thinking. They were looking for someone outside their norm to do ministry in a fresh way. They appreciated that I had successfully engaged young people.”

All churches are working hard in this regard, he acknowledged.

His start at the helm of Kirk this past January was affected by the Covid pandemic, and decisions were made to curtail in-person services for a period. Remote church took place, and luckily Kirk had hired a tech-savvy pastor.

“We went from holding up an iPhone to record the service, to making a heavy investment in computerized, web-based equipment and all the necessary peripherals for live streaming. We were back to in-person services around the middle of March, but it’s been a slow start. We haven’t had our full congregation come out. I think many are still engaging us online and watching the recorded broadcasts, but it’s going to take some time for people to feel a sense of security and comfort, to step outside their homes and come out to worship.”

When he’s not clad in clergical robes, Yang enjoys music and photography, but quickly offers, “I’m mostly a family man.” He and his wife, Jini, have a two-and-a-half-year-old son, Leonard, and live in a new subdivision in south Pelham.

“We’ve settled in, and whenever we get the chance, we get in the car and explore the neighborhood and parts of Niagara.”

Jini is very musical, Yang said, and is proficient on the piano. His own instrumental talents are focused on the guitar, and he enjoys playing duets with his wife, usually involving contemporary worship music. They have performed for the church congregation, and hope to do more, especially in an effort to engage more younger people.

“Music is a very spiritual medium,” he said. “When we look at the Christian faith, I think that music is a vital part of the church, the way it’s manifested throughout the generations.”

Yang has enjoyed the transition to small-town life, noting that people in Fonthill will offer greetings while passing on the street, which is a rare occurrence in the metropolis across the lake.

“I’ve been at the coffee shop in town, and people will just approach and strike up a conversation with me. I love that.”

He and Jini often speak Korean at home with their son.

“I think that it’s an important part of our heritage. Frankly, my spoken Korean is not particularly good. I was born here in Canada, but Jini was born in Korea. She’s trilingual, and speaks French as well as English and Korean, due to the fact that she lived in Montreal most of her life.”

Yang is deeply appreciative of the way that the congregation has made him and his family feel welcome.

“Everyone at Kirk on the Hill has been very hospitable and caring, and allowed our transition here to be seamless and smooth. We’ve been very blessed.”