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Conference Minister Brings Home Impressions from Holy Week in South Korea

HARTFORD (05/02/2011) -- Visiting with ecumenical partners in the Kyung-Ki Presbytery in the Republic of Korea during Holy Week, Interim Conference Minister the Rev. Charles L. Wildman found a dynamic nation working 24/7, building constantly, and an equally active church. "They have a feeling to me of being a missioning church, still in a missionary mood," he said. His hosts strongly reaffirmed the emotional, spiritual, and tangible support they've found in the connection to Connecticut's UCC churches. "They want more and more exchanges with us, more and more contact with us."

Reflecting on the journey just hours after his return, tears came to his eyes as he described his Good Friday visit to the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ), bounded by fortifications and barbed wire. "There on a grey, misty, very cold and unpleasant weather day," he remembered, "we visited a very cold and unpleasant place."

They entered "a building devoted to telling the story of a people I would call a broken people, brothers and sisters. It's a broken environment. Broken humanity. It was very thematically appropriate for Good Friday. One of the most depressing places I've visited in my lifetime."

That evening, Wildman preached the Good Friday sermon at the Cho-wal Church, which is partnered with the First Church of Christ, Congregational, UCC in Glastonbury, with a new appreciation of "our sins of commission and omission [that] are part of Jesus' heavy burden."

Easter Sunday, Wildman declared the gospel message of Jesus' resurrection at the Dong-bu-sun-lin Church, which is partnered with the Mystic Congregational Church UCC. He called it "one of the most inspirational Easter services I have been to."

"The people made the difference," he said, "Even through our language difficulties, there was a great deal of warmth expressed, and appreciation, and acceptance: of me, and of the Message.

"I felt that in worship we celebrated the Resurrection."

The partnership is absolutely vital for the Kyung-Ki Presbytery, Wildman found. "For the Presbytery, the Connecticut Conference is a major anchor." Four to six more congregations in South Korea want to establish partnership relationships with Connecticut Conference churches.

The Protestant church in South Korea is only fifty years old, and possesses enormous energy. The church which hosted the Presbytery's Annual Meeting, one of the larger ones in South Korea (including two levels of underground parking), started less than fifty years ago "with the current senior minister doing streetcorner evangelism by playing his accordion." Sanctuaries feature screens and projectors, and worship includes hymns using traditional Western hymn tunes and also contemporary praise bands. Every church holds a daily worship service at 5:00 in the morning, a legacy of soldiers' prayers before a day in combat.

Among the many cultural differences -- ranging from food to language through regard for elders -- Wildman was particularly refreshed by his reception among children. On a museum visit, he found himself surrounded by a crowd of junior high age young people eager to practice their English skills on a real American visitor, unrestrained either by shyness or their accompanying teachers. "They're bright and exciting kids," he said. "It was such a thrill."

Another visit, to the House of Sharing, revealed another significant wound to the Korean soul. Run by Buddhist monks, the House is both museum and shelter for women who were abused by Japanese soldiers as "comfort women" during the Second World War. The Koreans believe around 200,000 women were enslaved, assaulted, or slaughtered. "That was also a moving part of the trip; your heart breaks."

Wildman gave great thanks for Irene Choi, a member of First Church of Christ, Congregational UCC in Glastonbury, who accompanied him on the visit and assisted with translation. She remained in Korea as her pastor, the Rev. David Taylor, arrived on Monday to visit their partner church. Taylor and Wildman both participated in meetings with Presbytery leaders.

The Connecticut Conference and the Kyung-Ki Presbytery founded their partnership in 1992.

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