On Sunday we split into small groups and went to 5 different churches in Seoul for Sunday worship. David Allen, Sarah Jane Wetelainen, and I went to Sumdol Church, a small and unique ministry serving the LGBT community in Seoul.
Sumdol doesn’t have a purpose-built church building, but operates out of a centre for community action, human rights, and social justice. Ironically, it’s humble abode sits directly across the street from an enormous PCK church (Presbyterian Church in Korea, a different denomination).
Begun as an outreach mission and then as a church plant by Hyangrin Presbyterian Church some six years ago, Sumdol strives to be an affirming church presence in a society where homophobia is extremely common.
When we arrived members were busy turning the multi-purpose room into the worship space: a communion table was set up and draped with white and colourful cloths, communion vessels were carefully put in place, the music team practiced the songs on a variety of instruments, and the tech crew tested the sound and projection equipment. Rev. Lim Borah busily made the rounds greeting members with gladness and encouragement. All around us was a sense of purpose and preparation for something special.
We began with singing in both English and Korean, some of the songs composed by the music team leader, followed by prayers in Korean, with some English. David preached in English with simultaneous translation by one of the members, on Jesus’ words “unless a grain of wheat dies…”
Sumdol is very community-oriented where everyone seems to know everybody and is warmly welcomed. A shared meal follows Sunday service, with wash-up done by the winner (or loser, depending on your perspective) of a rock-paper-scissors game (David got a chance to show off his kitchen experience when he lost at our table).
After the service two members of the congregation, David and Na-Young, took us on a walking tour of the neighbourhood, which has become a bit of a nexus for LGBT people in Seoul. Along with the local market and a coffee shop, we visited Rainbow House, a housing coop that just opened a few months ago. Mandated to provide affordable housing to LGBT persons, Rainbow House has a variety of accommodations, ranging from small private flats to communal quarters remarkably like the pods in college residences.
Rev. Lim and Sumdol Church seem to be thriving examples of a how a new faith community with a very specific focus and ministry can meet an emerging need. I’m wondering what we can learn from their experience and expertise.