Imagine listening to a conversation in which people identify themselves by numbers. One person says, "I'm a 1." "I'm a 2," says another. Someone else chimes in, "I'm a 1.5"; still another claims to be a 1.2, Everyone laughs.
What are they talking about? Korean Americans have devised a numerical way of identifying themselves according to the generation they belong to. A first generation Korean immigrant who was born and educated in Korea and came to North America as an adult is considered a 1. Someone who was born in Korea but was educated in North America is a 1.5. A 2 was born and educated in the United States.
Now imagine worshiping together with a cross-section of all those groups. Some speak only Korean; others speak both languages fluently. Along with these are worshipers for whom Korean is no longer their first language. The Korean immigration started exactly 100 years ago, but it was not until the 1970s that the community started to see a massive influx of immigrants, students, and business people from Korea. Thousands of Korean immigrants come to North America each year. Over 3,000 Korean congregations in North America face the daunting task of maintaining unity among their people, honoring their identity and heritage while ministering to those who perhaps have never set foot in Korea. All are shaped by the Korean culture, which honors tradition and respect for elders. Anyone who visits these churches will be welcomed warmly, and will gain a new appreciation for the intensity of their commitment to be faithful Christians while generational transitions are underway.
Waves of Immigrants
One such church is Orange Korean Christian Reformed Church (OKCRC) in Fullerton, California. This congregation worships in a building they purchased twenty years ago from the Evangelical Free congregation that Pastor Chuck Swindoll was serving at the time. During its twenty-five- year history, the congregation has been fed by waves of Korean immigrants who came to seek new opportunities and continue living out their Christian faith. Their roots are in the Korean Presbyterian Church.
Senior pastor II Yong Kang is deeply committed to the life of this congregation and to the Korean community. He's intensely concerned about reaching Is, 1.5s, and 2s. Kang, Orange Korean's fifth pastor, has a fascinating story that includes mission work in Saudi Arabia before threatening circumstances forced him to leave. Next he spent some years doing church planting in the Los Angeles area; he has been with this congregation since 1997.
My visit to Orange Korean took place in the context of a weekend worship conference led by several Korean leaders and members of the staff of the Calvin Institute of Christian Worship. Korean pastors and leaders came from as far away as Alaska and Ohio. All were eager to connect with a close-knit community and to discuss issues that raise important questions about introducing change.
Different Services, Different Styles
As part of the worship conference, Calvin Theological Seminary President Neal Plantinga was "re-installed" in a moving service during the 9:30 service (see box, p. 27). That Sunday morning, as always, worshipers arrived carrying both their Bibles and their hymnals (for a review of a new Korean-English hymnal, see p. 28). The service was conducted in Korean with interpretation for English speakers. All song and Scripture texts were projected in both languages on a large screen. The worship was lively, passionate, and contemporary in style. A praise team of eleven musicians, including vocalists, organist, piano, keyboard, and guitars led us in worship. A thirty-five-member choir also sang.
Pastor Kang sets the tone and theme for three of the four services by selecting the Scripture passage, sermon theme, and songs. The choral director selects choir music and places it in the order of worship. The first and third services follow a traditional pattern; more planning is invested in the 9:30 contemporary service. The English-language afternoon service for 2s is led by another pastor.
A Vigorous Ministry of Prayer
Korean Christians are deeply committed to the ministry of prayer. Orange Korean Church reflects this strong heritage in its daily schedule of prayer meetings. Each morning at 5:30, six days a week, as well as on Wednesday and Friday evenings, seventy to eighty people spend an hour in prayer. These meetings begin with a few songs and a brief message. Some of those who attend are members of other congregations who live nearby, and some members of Orange Korean attend daily prayer meetings at other congregations.
Most thrilling and moving during my visit was the offering of prayer for Neal Plantinga during the Sunday morning service. Dr. Plantinga preached at the 9:30 service in what was billed as a "repeat" of his inauguration as the President of Calvin Seminary for the Korean community. During the prayers with the laying on of hands, Dr. Plantinga knelt before the congregation. The pastors present placed their hands on him, and then Pastor Kang invited the congregation to pray first. Immediately the whole congregation erupted in vigorous audible prayer, After that, Pastor Kang prayed in Korean, followed by Evangelist Orlando Alfaro, who prayed in Spanish with the same fervor. The prayer was concluded by Regional Director of Christian Reformed Home Missions Peter Holwerda, who prayed in English. Even though these prayers were spoken in three languages, everyone could feel and understand that they were asking the same Lord for an outpouring of the Sung RyungNun, Espilitu Santo—Holy Spirit— on Dr. Plantinga and his ministry.
Challenges and Opportunities
The challenges and opportunities the church faces as a Korean-American Christian Reformed church are similar to most churches, though perhaps more intense: a disturbing exodus of the second generation from the church, education for the younger generation, acculturation and adjustment for the first generation, language and family issues, and so on. According to Pastor Kang, the Korean churches are dealing energetically with these issues:
- Language. OKCRC conducts three worship services in Korean and one in English. Sunday school uses English, but youth and college-age groups include both English and Korean speakers. As it deals with generational transition, OKCRC faces large language questions. Should it focus energy on teaching and learning Korean? What about generation 1? 1.5? 2? Members have different convictions about this matter.
- Worship styles. Two of the Sunday morning services reflect traditional Korean style, the third is contemporary. The afternoon English-language service has a style all its own. High-tech equipment is very obvious in the sanctuary. So is the organ and a choir. It appears that the variety of styles used in worship contributes to the congregation's success in reaching multiple groups.
- Remaining Reformed. Most North American Korean Christians have come from a Presbyterian background. Although most come to North America with the intention of remaining faithful in their practice of the Reformed faith, a quickly adopted secular lifestyle threatens their faithfulness. Will the next generation value this Reformed heritage as much as the Is do? In October 2002 a Reformed Worship conference was held in response to the Korean churches' desire to address these issues in the context of worship.
- Keeping the 2s. Ones often think differently, live differently, and believe differently than 2s. The Koreans' love for higher education often brings them to secular universities that contribute to an erosion of their faith. The attrition of their youth is a large concern of the Korean community. They frequently ask the question, How can we get a good education, enter a successful career,and yet protect ourselves from the inroads of secular thinking and believing?
- The structure of church government. Although there are many similarities between the Presbyterian system of church order and that of the Christian Reformed Church, the Koreans experience some tension over the comparative authority of the elders and the pastor. How many elders should a congregation have? What is their role and how much authority should they exercise? How much authority should the pastor exercise?
- Small groups. Pastor Kang would love to d raw more of his members into cell groups that nurture faith and promote close relationships. Cell groups have long been a mark of Korean Christian churches. Will American Koreans continue that tradition?
The Korean Americans at Orange Korean Christian Reformed Church and other Korean American churches are a part of our Christian family that enriches us all. Let's give thanks, affirmation, and support for their commitment to live out their faith through the generations.
- Established twenty-five years ago in 1978.
- More than 1,100 members, about 60 percent first generation Korean, 20 percent 1.5, and 20 percent second generation Korean American.
- Staff includes four pastors plus two youth staff and two other ministry staff.
- Sunday services in Korean at 7:45 (traditional), 9:30 (contemporary, bilingual), 11:30 (traditional); in English at 1:15 for the second generation, mainly youth and college-age worshipers.
- A different choir sings in each Sunday morning service: the Bethel Choir, Zion Choir, and Hallelujah Choir.
- Praise teams lead worship at the 9:30 and 1:15services.
- Prayer services Monday through Saturday at 5:30 a.m. and on Wednesday and Friday nights at 7:30 p.m.
Order of Worship - October 6, 2002; 9:30 a.m
[Silent prayer as people enter; the next section of the service is led by the praise team.]
Greeting and Call to Worship
Prayer of Confession
Hymn of praise
Prayer (led by an elder)
Offertory: The Lord's Prayer (played on the violin by a young boy)
Anthem (sung by the choir)
Service of Installation for Cornelius Plantinga
[Included a presentation, remarks, charges, laying on of hands, and intercessory prayers led by several leaders. Dr. Plantinga knelt while leaders of different ministries on the West coast led the prayers that followed prayers offered audibly by the congregation.]
Scripture (read by a man and woman standing by the front pew)
Songs of praise led by the praise team
Come, Let Us Worship
Come, Let Us Worship, The Korean-English Presbyterian Hymnal and Service Book. Louisville, Ky.: Geneva Press, 2001. Reviewed by Emily R. Brink, editor of Reformed Worship.
"Korean Christians are a singing people." So begins the preface to this new bilingual hymnal intended to serve the many Methodist and Presbyterian congregations in North America, The Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) and the United Methodist Church each appointed a hymnal committee and staff members to cooperate on this collection of 392 hymns and a section of responsorial psalms in the back, similar to the structure of the United Methodist Hymnal. More than half of the psalms are included, along with the Song of Mary and the Song of Simeon.
Each denomination prepared its own liturgical materials in the front; the Presbyterian version begins similarly to their Book of Common Worship, with an Introduction, Outline of the Service for the Lord's Day, and then full service materials for the Lord's Day, the Sacrament of Baptism, Morning Prayer, and Evening Prayer. This fifty-page opening section ends with the liturgical calendar and Lectionary.
Korean and English language copy is placed on facing pages, Korean on the left, English on the right. The hymns continue that format, meaning that this substantive collection includes only half the number of songs in a comparably-sized hymnal with only one language. The left side includes Korean in script; the right side includes both English and Korean transliterated, so English speakers could at least attempt the pronunciation in Korean.
American and some English missionaries brought the gospel to Korea in the second half of the nineteenth century, bringing with them the popular gospel songs of the time. This hymnal includes many favorite nineteenth-century songs (six by Fanny Crosby, for example), as well as many from the twentieth century, including several new songs from Korea and other parts of Asia.
The hymnal structure follows the outline of revelation, beginning with the Old Testament: "God the Creator: Creation, Moving through the Exodus and Salvation" ("I Am a Stranger Here," "I Want to Walk as a Child of the Light"), then metrical settings as well as some songs loosely based on the psalms ("The Lord's My Shepherd," "As the Deer," theTaize "Bless the Lord"), then moving through prophecy and on into the New Testament with songs on the Christian year. There are also sections on the church, the Christian life, and a bit of service music. The collection ends with "New Heaven and New Earth" ("Soon and Very Soon").
The careful work done in preparing this collection will serve any Korean-speaking congregation well.