The Rev. HyoungDock Yoo, comes to Riverhead United Methodist Church after pastoring a church in Park Slope, Brooklyn. Photo: Denise Civiletti

Riverhead United Methodist Church has a new pastor: the Rev. HyoungDock Yoo. Yoo took the pulpit at the historic downtown church on July 7, following the retirement of former pastor the Rev. Enrique LeBrón.

A native of Seoul, Korea, he is the son of a Methodist pastor. He immigrated to the United States in 1989 and earned a Master’s of Theology degree at Drew Theological Seminary in 1992.

Yoo, 62, comes to Riverhead UMC from Grace United Methodist Church in Park Slope, Brooklyn.

He and his wife Jughee — “the most beautiful person in the world” — have four adult children and a 2-year-old “Morkie” (a Maltese-Yorkshire terrier mix) named Sarang, which means “love” in Korean.

Pastor HyoungDock Yoo in his study at Riverhead UMC Tuesday. Photo: Denise Civiletti

Pastor Hyoung — which he prefers to be called rather than Pastor Yoo — is soft-spoken and reflective. Sitting in an armchair in the pastor’s paneled study this week, he said his first goal is getting to know the community.

“The bishop appoints a pastor to the community, not to the church,” Yoo said. “I live in the parsonage here. This is my office. But the community is the emphasis.”

He’s getting to know people and making friends, he said. Members of the congregation have been very gracious and welcoming, taking him on tours around the community.

“It’s a beautiful town,” he said. “My body agrees with it. I walk to the river bank twice a day and I feel centered.”

Riverhead and Park Slope are very different places and the congregations of his former church — a Caribbean church — and his new assignment are very different too.

Yoo says he considers himself a “bridge person” — one who builds bridges to unite people of different cultures and races.

“I am passionate about being a bridge person,” he said.

“We’re very segregated, not just in the community but even in the church. We segregate into small groups. It’s human nature, but it’s a sin. Remember our image of paradise — the lions lay down with the lambs,” he said.

“As Christians, it’s our mission to work with different groups, especially people of different colors. I think it’s God’s expectation and command: Accept one another, different cultures different races,” he said. “Love everyone.”

“It’s a challenge to be racially diverse. Most people will say they don’t need to know people of other cultures or races,” he said. “It’s not easy to change.”

Yoo believes his mission is to help his new church to be more inclusive and diverse.

“I’m intentional about being inclusive. In unity is power and strength and peace,” Yoo said.

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Denise Civiletti
Denise is a veteran local reporter, editor, attorney and former Riverhead Town councilwoman. Her work has been recognized with numerous awards, including investigative reporting and writer of the year awards from the N.Y. Press Association. She is a founder, owner and co-publisher of this website.Email Denise.