Pilgrimage to Korea

By Kevin Park, Associate Dean for Advanced Professional Studies and Assistant Professor of Theology

I am blessed to call three countries home. I was born in Korea, raised in Canada, and have been living in the U.S. for the past twenty-one years. Although I visit family and friends in Toronto often, I have not been back to Korea since our family immigrated in 1974. In November 2013, after almost 40 years, I travelled to the country of my birth. Dr. Paul Huh and I, with the help of Dr. Kathy Dawson, organized a DMin/DEdMin travel seminar to Busan, Korea, for the 10th Assembly of the World Council of Churches. Seven students, four alumni/ae, and three faculty members from Columbia Seminary went on a pilgrimage to Busan to experience global ecumenism in action. The Assembly was an unforgettable experience for us all. Experiencing Korea again was a priceless gift for me.

World Council of Churches 10th Assembly

The theme of the Assembly was, “God of Life, Lead Us to Justice and Peace.” With a thousand official delegates representing 350 denominations in 110 countries, and over two thousand additional participants from all over the world, the event felt like God’s provisional Kingdom. All nations, tribes, peoples, and tongues were gathered to worship God and to engage in the work of justice and peace around the world. We participated in moving morning and evening prayers, compelling plenary addresses, and Ecumenical Conversations where we interacted with Christians from around the world in small groups, discussing specific, contextual issues of justice and peace. Workshops, Bible studies, madang (“court yard”) activities and performances, as well as Assembly business meetings dotted the schedule.  The promise of global ecumenism was palpable throughout the Assembly—the largest and the most diverse Christian gathering in the world. However, the limits of ecumenism were also sadly apparent. Because of a lack of consensus in Eucharistic theology, there was no common table upon which to celebrate the Lord’s Supper—a glaring hole in our claim to Christian unity.

Korean Churches and Extravagant Hospitality

We were blessed to participate and/or lead worship services in three Korean churches. Rev. Im Joog Seo, the senior pastor of Pohang Central Presbyterian Church, a ten thousand member church near Busan, invited our group to lead every aspect of their seven Sunday worship services. It was a fabulous opportunity for our group to engage in cross-cultural liturgical leadership. We were also invited by Rev. Dojin Won to participate at Dong Shin Presbyterian Church’s Wednesday baptismal service where our group helped lead prayer and administer the Lord’s Supper. Lastly, we attended the early morning prayer at Myung Sung Presbyterian Church in Seoul. Myung Sung is the largest Presbyterian Church in the world with more than one hundred thousand members. Early morning prayer was attended by more than two thousand people. It was amazing and humbling to know that so many people gather before dawn for prayer every morning in churches throughout Korea.

Our church hosts extended an exceptional welcome, rolling out the red carpet for us with gifts, tours, transportation, lodging, amazing and unforgettable meals, kindness and friendship. Their hospitality was so extravagant that, to our American individualistic and utilitarian sensibilities, it sometimes felt “over the top” and almost uncomfortable to receive.

Personal Pilgrimage

I had a couple of personal days in Seoul to venture out to my old neighborhood near Choongmooro 4th street. My old residential neighborhood was now a printing district, completely saturated with shops and business. Still, after all these years, I could recognize the streets and alleys where I played with my friends and found old landmarks like the Dae Han movie theater where my aunt took me to see “The Sound of Music.” Memories and a warm feeling of nostalgia flooded over me. Everything felt, at the same time, both familiar and strange.

I met extended family members I had not seen in almost forty years. When I left Korea, my uncles were young men in their twenties. Now they are grandfathers well into their sixties. Although they have aged, their personalities and mannerisms were exactly as I remembered. My cousins I played with as a child are now in their early fifties, busy with their professions and families. It felt like I was traveling both back in time and forward into the future. Gratitude filled my heart as I was able to reclaim this important part of my life and identity.

It has been a year and a half since I came to Columbia as the Associate Dean for Advanced Professional Studies and Assistant Professor of Theology. I have enjoyed every moment of my new vocation and I am thankful everyday that I get to interact with the Columbia Seminary community. This travel seminar to Korea was an extra gift that was unexpected sheer grace. I am going to visit Korea again, but this time I’ll make sure it won’t take another forty years to do so.

Dr. Park is pictured above in the back row, second from right meeting with others from Columbia Theological Seminary and Korea. 

This article originally appeared in the winter issue of Vantage magazine which is available online! To see the full version of “Anchored Influencers,” please visit our website at: www.ctsnet.edu/vantage?id=37

To learn more about our Advanced Professional Studies program (DMin and DEdMin degrees), please visit our website at: www.ctsnet.edu/advanced-ministry-programs

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